Debating Matters India showcased the knowledge and debating skills of students.

For Shreyans Mehta, a class XI student of Velammal International School in Chennai, interacting with his hostel mates over the last few months on what he actually felt about the anti-corruption movement was always a challenge.

“Every time I told them there could be a better way to make the government to listen to our voices, I was told I am not being supportive.” Recently, at the regional finals of Debating Matters India, an event organised by the British Council at IIT-Madras, when hundreds of students like him voiced their opinions about the topic, he was indeed glad. “There were many dissenting voices here, but I was also forced to think there can be something right and wrong about everything.”

Questions on who actually comprise the civil society, what is representative democracy, whether fasting unto death can be considered a non-violent protest, and how rational was it to believe that the answer to every problem was the ballot box surfaced, as students probed the depths of the topic ‘Activists are undermining the Indian democracy'.

Speaking against the proposition, the team from Sri Sankara Senior Secondary School comprising Sudershan Suresh and Vikas B.N., consistently maintained that civil society was not about one person influencing millions, but about engaging people in the functioning of democracy.

Anubhuti Singh and Bharadwaj Shastri, the team from Chirec Public School, Hyderabad, defended it citing historic examples. “Extra-constitutional methods can open democracy to the grammar of anarchy, even if the intentions are good,” was their view. And in the end, the fact that debating is the skill to deliver clearly, be specific and confident and not evade questions, perhaps helped the team from Sri Sankara Senior Secondary School gain a slight edge over their opponent and emerge as winners of the event.

Before the final round, students from 20 schools from Hyderabad, Chennai, Madurai, and Coimbatore debated on a variety of issues ranging from fertility tourism in India, nuclear power plants, artistic freedom and communal violence. The event was slated to be less intensive in terms of severity of rules, but the rigour was no less.

When an opposing team member suggested surrogacy would lead to women embracing prostitution, other participants immediately jumped in saying, “That is like calling a soldier a murderer.” Surprisingly, the students also called for checks and censorships considering the increase in cyber abuse. “The best part of the debate was you had to answer questions from the audience and competing teams,” said Arjun Ravichandran of Mahatma Montessori, Madurai.

IIT- M director Bhaskar Ramamurthi stressed the need to encourage traditional debating skills among school students to help them think clearly, put forth good arguments and impart logic. The finals of the event will be held on November 17 in New Delhi.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012