Interesting times, interesting debate
All of a sudden students of universities have been able to make themselves heard. Although there are different opinions on whether they should continue to do what they were doing, the debate itself is interesting nevertheless. It may have started much earlier but no one noticed them. This time around at the Faiz Festival in Lahore a group of students from the Punjab University sang verses that were as rhythmic as they were exciting. The group enjoyed themselves while performing in an informal setting outside the Alhamra Hall. The video was immediately viral on social media.
On November 29 students took out a rally at 50 different places; one major rally was taken out in Lahore featuring political party activists as well as civil society workers who came to support the march. The students’ demands are to give them a right to organize themselves at the campuses to get their day to day legitimate issues resolved. Besides they want cuts in the HEC funds and fee hike by private educational institutes be reversed. Harassment and highhandedness of administrations in the name of enforcing discipline on grownups students are other concerns that bother the students and there are incidents in this regard that have been reported by the media as well.
While there are many who have come out in support of these demands, there are some who connect these students with some other political movements in the country that have not received a very kind treatment by the state. In Lahore in fact some half a dozen organizers and participants have been booked by the law enforcement agencies on sedition charges. One of the accused is Iqbal Khan, father of Mashal Khan who was killed by a mob in a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa university.
In the television debates that were held afterwards, almost all the political parties supported the idea of restoring the unions. So much so that prime minister came out in support of the idea but with a caveat. Of having enforceable laws, that is.
Since early 80s, the unions have been dysfunctional so to speak. It was Gen Zia who banned any political activity on campuses. This did never stop students from being part of political activities though. They rather were used for violent activities. In the absence of the legal and lawful unions, various campuses saw the emergences of councils on ethnic and religious grounds.
Those finding the unions a threat to the peace of the campuses in fact look at the violent character of the student bodies and they are not entirely wrong. In this backdrop the PM’s idea of bringing in code of conduct before restoring them also makes sense. The need is to let the students air their grievance and listen to their demands. The government should immediately move to make a parliamentary committee that works to develop that code of conduct so that the dream of students’ collectives could be realized the soonest. And idea of booking people for sedition for merely taking out a rally is as weird as there could be. The charges must immediately be withdrawn.