The Larder of the Leadership Camp: The Subtle Castration of Student Political Energy

In this submission I do not wish to address the rudiments, the viability or the appropriateness of a pre-university “leadership training” — such as the one the Ministry of Education conducts with the employment of the Sri Lankan Military since 2010 –, but I hope to raise some disturbing trends and tendencies of that very politico-militant gambit through which the SB-esque bureaucracy that runs the country’s Higher Education wishes to neutralize the political incentive of the University, and its (potentially) subversive or critical space.

Jonathan Swift mode: she who rides the rop the best is rich in "leadership" and "positive attitudes".

Jonathan Swift mode: she who rides the rope the best is rich in “leadership” and “positive attitudes”.

Today, the “Leadership Camp” for would-be university entrants has evolved into its 4th year and from what we hear from students who have been to the mangy camps and back is that the conditions and the facilities which these militant bases offer the programme are  getting deteriorated by the year. The parent of such a student  — himself a retired military officer — shared his views as to how ill-equipped some of the bases are: how poor bathing facilities (specially, for female students) and billets which are over-crowded are problematic infrastructural issues. These are of course not new, as we heard of such deplorable basic structural deficiencies (as opposed to the millions allocated in funds for this political road show) in 2010, 2011 and 2012 as well. It only goes on to show that the government and the responsible agencies are only ready to make a mockery of the country’s top 25,000 A/L qualified youth, now set to enter university, at the hands of the most corrupt corps of the state long arm: the militia.

Our critical faculties have been  numbed to the stage where few see a problem in a photo such as this.

Our critical faculties have been numbed to the stage where few see a problem in a photo such as this.

A close friend who took this training this year corrects me that “it all depends on the actual camp you get”. So, there are better facilitated camps as much as ones that are lacking in the same basic facilities. In our present context, in an education system where luck and fate seem to come more and more into play, this surely seems to be a preparatory act through which the student is put through right at the very outset of her university education. Military style sense of humour, one might say, wry and caustic as it is.

In a recent cyber exchange, two friends opted to comment on a status I had submitted, denouncing the so-called “leadership training” as a stratagem through which the government seeks the compromising of the autonomy in Higher Education. Though the two friends did not directly respond to my point, among the many ideas they had submitted, the following were central and spoken with what appeared to be an unflinching air of confidence:

(1) that the “leadership training” is “fun” and absorbing.

(2) that you have fun with new people you meet and learn so many virtues such as working in teams, in tucking your bed at morning, listening to and sharing others’ experiences and ideas etc

(3) that you are taught how to resist the “inhuman” advances of “raggers” and “ragging” when you enter university; that you are taught of “JVP activism” and how not to be misdirected by them

(4) that team work skills and creative incentives are honed, in activities such as debates, “fashion shows”, assemblies of sorts etc.

Items 1,2 and 4 can be highly relevant to a person who has for his/her life never had the time or the energy for recreational activity, but even then to get a student to compulsorily follow such a programme (the training under study is not compulsory, but it is promoted and spoken of in that way) is both unethical and outside the purview of the Ministry of Higher Education. Of course, there are many who simply find the whole process trivial and even ridiculous. Some others turn away from the camps, or leave it on various pretexts and go back home.

Marching in search of the difficult oasis of Leadership.

Marching in search of the difficult oasis of Leadership.

Items 1,2 and 4 of the list given above are the same aspects as one would internalize by being an organic part of any set up such as the university community: the destination of a would-be university entrant. As a friend who had been to Camp 2013/14 summed it up: “it is a camp for the daddy’s girls and mamma’s boys”. What some marvel at as optimum “fun” at the camps have nothing to do with the camp per se; but, their awe is more a reflection of one’s sheltered upbringing and lethargy of team work etc in the pre-university run up . These, once again, are the very qualities the mechanical and organic environments of the university will in degrees cultivate in different individuals.

Leadership gauged by the militia should not be the vision and foresight to facilitate the humanitarian and socialist agendas that beg fr consideration.  The girl is the right extreme display the semiotics of "leadership", the Government style

Leadership gauged by the militia should not be the vision and foresight to facilitate the humanitarian and socialist agendas that beg for consideration.

So, why should one call a camp of the defined type a “leadership camp” and why hold it at all? The answer is found in the “leadership mania” with which the manifold layers of our civil society is currently being drilled with by the Rajapakshe Regime. In the post-2009 aftermath, “being a leader” — an imperial ethic, really; manifested as a “compulsory” asset in one’s stride in being a “proper individual” — is imperative. The “becoming of a leader”, then, is channeled through the Regime’s cute watchdog, the militia. The type of training which will bring about a “leader” then, is a combination of soft skills and traits that carry a “corporate colour” and values and social skills which are anyway attainable in a campus / group environment. It is a forum set up by the government to toy with the mind of the would-be undergraduate youth, before “anyone else” (such as a political opponent of the state) can reach the student first. It is a futile excuse to misappropriate a large chunk of cash, for a huge cut is reserved for “leadership” training — a training that doesn’t exist; nor can be given, so to speak.

Jaffna University Students' Union leader K. Dharshanan was brutally attacked in mid 2012 while cycling past a military-manned checkpoint.  Dharshanan was on his way to take part in a commemoration event organized by his Union. He was attacked by iron rods by "unknown forces" within touching distance of a military manned spot. Students taking part in the Leadership Camps under military patronage write thank you cards  to the military officialdom for being ad hoc  mums and dads who became the absolute beacons of their futures.

Jaffna University Students’ Union leader K. Dharshanan was brutally attacked in mid 2012 while cycling past a military-manned checkpoint.
Dharshanan was on his way to take part in a commemoration event organized by his Union. He was attacked by iron rods by “unknown forces” within touching distance of a military manned spot.
Students taking part in the Leadership Camps under military patronage write thank you cards to the military officialdom for being ad hoc mums and dads who became the absolute beacons of their futures.

What the “leadership training” delivers after being in labour for three whole weeks, then, is no “leader” (for “leaders”, in spite of the ridiculous promise, are not made wholesale) but a (perceived) sausage dog who is expected to ingrain the “qualities of a leader” as the State wills it; as the State directs through its boot-licking militia. Here, we don’t question the militia’s suitability to give a “training” for would-be undergrads on “leadership” —- because “leadership camp” is merely a front for a project that is geared at subtly manipulating the values and priorities of young men and women at the threshold of youth.

As with every other thing in life, today, even the “leadership camp” has made it to Facebook. Among the “camp souvenirs” and post-camp “shares” of a friend was a ludicrous but informative post where the military officials of the camp were profusely thanked for (from home, via cyber) the said militia’s “guidance” and “familial support” of three weeks. I would not quote the said post here, as I have not been granted permission to do so, but the military officialdom at the “camp” were referred to as a “second mother” and a “loving father” of a sort which, as much a lopsided caricature as it may appear to those with capricious stomachs, reflects the kind of mindset that is desired of and promoted. Since no other segment of Lankan youth than university students know best the taste of the truncheon and the holy bliss of tear gas and beat ups behind closed cell doors, one should simply “like” the kind of post that promotes universal endearment between the “father, the camp commander” and his object of desire: the student.

In the same way, the camp’s syllabus is said to lay heavy emphasis in undermining the “JVP politics” as monstrous, while a pro-government line of thinking is said to be subtly promoted. In a smaller camp, praising of the country’s leadership and the denouncement of “germs” at universities such as the JVP-oriented Students’ Wings (though the political strength of these groups right now is far less than the military should know) have been strategically carried out. The anti-JVP sentiments are seen by my friend as the “government’s way of preparing [the student] to face the inhuman acts by the JVP on campus”. In other words, the governmental long arm has already constructed for the student an “enemy”; rather, than give the student to arrive at his/her convictions about the world. The “dehumanized” face of the JVP / ragging — a camp trainer’s definition, here — is an instance where the governmental proxy is seen to manipulate the insecurity and anxiety in students to artificially create a fear psychosis.

Ironically, the “leadership camp” between 2010 and now have caused the deaths of more students than university “ragging” in recent years has. It is discouraging to see that other than the IUSF (Inter-University Students’ Federation) no other leading body involved in tertiary education has raised any form of vocal resistance regarding either these deaths, or the camps as a whole. Incidentally, the FUTA (Federation of University teachers’ Associations) has made almost no effort whatsoever to generate awareness or take a tangible public stance over this affair. In its recent publication on state oppression of university students, the IUSF makes special reference to the deaths caused at the “leadership camps” and of the irritable silences that follow.

The “leadership camp” is a strategic ploy to neutralize or undermine the radical impetus of the university’s space as a site of resistance and progressive / critical engagement. The concentration of would-be students in militant camps for three weeks at end and in them being drilled with a military-preached “leadership training” either shows the flawed reading the government has of what should go into open minded, tertiary level critical discourse; or, it shows the governmental bent at using the militant agent as a filter in its Rajapakshick / SB-esque agenda of infiltrating and neutralizing to their petty ends the university system .

The values and thinking promoted at the camps show a strong establishmentarian strain, with patriarchal values and regimental incentives being freely prescribed. The university is traditionally known as a “third space” of critical engagement and reflective discourse. The logic as well as the “magic” of the “leadership camp” seem to promote the otherwise true. The philistines and reactionary elements, therefore, thrive in their “fun” and maximize the volume. If at all this camp has an iota to do with “leadership”, it only shows the government’s expertise at castrating all progressive energies that show potential in critically engaging with its arrogance and abuse.

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