Students’ unrest is characterised by “collective discontent, dysfunctional conditions in educational institutions and concern (of public and students) for change in existing norms”. Students ‘agitations, on the other hand, are characterised by ‘action based on the feeling of injustice, identifying source of discontent, frustration and deprivation, emergence of leadership, mobilisation for action, and collective reaction to stimuli’.
Students’ unrest leads to protests. The important elements of protests are:
- Action expresses grievance,
- It points out conviction of injustice,
- Protesters are unable to correct the condition directly by their own effort,
- Action is meant to provoke ameliorative steps by the target group, and
- Protesters bank upon the combination of coercion, persuasion and discussion to move the target group.
If the protesters indulge in looting, it is not to acquire property, if they indulge in breaking windows, it is not to seek vengeance, if they shout slogans against a person, it is not to insult him. All these methods are resorted merely to express resentment against their unfulfilled demands and towards the callous attitude adopted by the powers that be in relation to their grievances.
Students’ protests sometimes lead to aggression, agitation and movement. Aggression is a physical or a verbal behaviour or a hostile act intended to harm, hurt or destroy. Agitation is to bring grievance and injustice to the notice of people in power. It is to shake up, to move, to stir up, to cause anxiety, and to disturb the power-holders.
Movement is the activity of diffused collectivity oriented towards changing the social order. Students’ agitation is behaviour of students whose goal is neither injury to a person nor destruction of public property but protest. It is neither the result of innate destructive drive nor it is an inborn reaction to frustrations. Various forms of students’ agitations are: demonstrations, shouting, strikes, hunger strikes, road blocks, gheraos, and boycott of examinations.
The important functions of student agitations are: to create collective consciousness and group solidarity, to organise students to work for new programmes and new plans, and to provide opportunities to students to express their feelings and make some impact on the course of change.
Agitations could be violent or non-violent. For example, about a decade ago there were about 5,000 student agitations in a year in India, of which about 20 per cent were violent. Further, a little more than half of the agitations related to non-academic issues within the campuses (like fixing up statues, changing name of the university, reducing bus-fare, etc.), about 20 per cent to academic issues, and about 25 per cent to some social issues (e.g., reservation issue, etc.).
Student agitations may be classified as: student-oriented agitations and society-oriented agitations. The former include problems at college/university level, while the latter refer to taking interest in state/country’s politics and policies and programmes).
Student-oriented agitations are generally discontinuous and problem-oriented rather than value-oriented. For example, students will agitate for removal of a particular vice-chancellor of a university but they will never fight for a change in the system of selecting vice-chancellors in universities in India.
Students’ agitations grow in stages. These include:
- The discontent stage, which is the stage of dissatisfaction and growing confusion with the existing conditions;
- The initiation stage, in which a leader emerges, the causes of discontent are identified, excitement increases, and proposals for action are debated;
- The formalisation stage, in which programmes are developed, alliances are forged, and support is also sought of some crusaders;
- The public support stage in which students’ trouble is viewed as public trouble.
Students’ agitations may be classified as:
- Persuasive agitations, in which students attempt to change the attitude of the powers that be by discussing their problems with them and making them accept their viewpoint
- Resistance agitations, in which the object is to keep the power-holders in their place.
- Revolutionary agitations, which aim at bringing sudden sweeping changes in the educational or the social systems.
The causes of students’ unrest
- Economic causes, like demands for reducing fees, increasing scholarship;
- Demands for changes in existing norms pertaining to admissions, examinations and teaching;
- Poor functioning of colleges/universities;
- Conflicting relations between students and teachers, e.g., behaviour of teachers with girl students or student leaders, cutting classes and so on;
- Inadequate facilities in the campus, e.g., inadequate hostels, poor food in hostels, lack of canteen facility, etc.; and
- Student leaders being instigated by politicians.