By Junaid Ali Malik
Student unions have played a crucial role in the establishment of Pakistan as its concept was brought forth by the youngsters of Aligarh University. Throughout Pakistan’s history, the democratic entities supported them. Dictators especially Zia-ul-Haq discouraged their existence. Political parties are well aware of their significance as the members of these unions help them in achieving various political objectives. The unions provide them fresh blood to maintain their existence. It is not easily available otherwise.
In fact, student unions have gone astray from their purpose of egalitarianism. In Pakistan, they are politically infused entities which are always ready to cause havoc on others who disagree with them ideologically. Factually speaking, they are liabilities than the assets. The unions that are formed in the name of religion makes the non-members feel religiously inferior to their members. The situation with regard to the student unions is worsening. A distinguished factor, ethnicity, is driving the policies of most of the student unions these days. If one really wants to see the customs of these unions, Punjab University (PU) will be the best place.
In PU, the oldest and the largest university of Pakistan, the entities based on religion and ethnicities are devastating the academic culture. The members of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) believe themselves to be the protector of Islamic values in the varsity. They observe things in accordance to their own way and wish to run the whole university. Making matters worse, they are supported by first-tier political leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami. Its leadership is always geared up to prop up its members no matter how unethical and illegal activities they are involved in.
The newest clash in PU is an indication that the student unions are concerned about destroying the peace of the university than promoting healthy academic culture. The brawl broke out between IJT and Pashtun and Baloch students over the cultural event. Several got injured. Frankly speaking, clashes have become a norm.
Unions’ cultural and religious clashes are evident in other universities as well. The administration of these universities is not only helpless but also hopeless. These clashes often become the basis of extremism. In severe cases, the extremist elements are supported, one way or the other, by some faculty members too. The case of Ansar-al-Sharia is conspicuous. Universities are producing some sort of extremists than scholars. After observing these developments, one would categorically like to have an inclusive ban on these organizations.
There are student unions in democratically stronger countries too, but they are regulated through prescribed rules and laws. In Europe, for instance, there is “European Students’ Union” (ESU) that is consisted of the 46 National Unions of Students (NUS) belonging to 39 countries. The sole purpose of this organization is to groom the students academically. Considering this, certain activities in the shape of literary seminars, programs related to promotion of research culture, etc. are conducted time after time. Its elected representatives are academically, not politically, charged. Everything is synchronized by the book. In Pakistan, political parties advance their political agenda through these organizations.
Educational institutions are the learning centers and not the grounds for political experiments. The fate of the unions should be decided by the government and their conducts need to be regulated with stringent implementations of rules and regulations. Until this happens, education will remain hostage in the hands of the so-called students who will further break up the already fragmented society on religious, ethnic, and cultural footings.
*The writer is a freelance columnist.