We don't want ice cream unions that are dictated: activist
On Sunday, the Karachi Literature Festival organised a session on ‘Student Politics in Pakistan’ without a single student on the five person panel.
It discussed the revival of student unions at universities across the country. The panel had a journalist, an alumna, a professor, a politician and a human rights’ activist and all the other ingredients a good panel should have. What it didn’t have, however, was a representative from the group to whom the topic of discussion matters most–the students.
The issue was first highlighted a few weeks ago on Twitter when the session’s panelists were announced by the festival, after which some changes were incorporated. But the basic issue remained the same.
This vacuum is not just seen at conferences and plenary sessions, but also on practical grounds. The Sindh government recently started working on a bill for the revival of student unions but has not involved student stakeholders in the bill’s formation, Arooj Aurangzaib, a University of Punjab graduate and one of the panelists pointed out.
“Stakeholders that are students at different campuses should be called,” she said. “We will not accept anything otherwise.
“We don’t want ice cream unions where nothing happens, or that are dictated by other people. We want a union led by students, where healthy discussions take place,” Aurangzaib said.
Journalist Azhar Abbas was of a similar opinion, calling student unions a medium that encourages “diversity” and “debates” in schools, colleges and universities. “Student politics is necessary because it encourages debates and dialogue on social issues around us,” he said.
The other people on the panel were MQM leader Faisal Subzwari, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba’s Khalid Amin and human rights activist Naghma Iqtidar.
Azhar explained that a ban was placed on student politics because General Zia-ul-Haq knew that student politics played a vital role in the Movement for Restoration of Democracy in 1983. “It was a well-thought out conspiracy by the establishment to curb freedom of speech by banning student unions,” he said.
The journalist added that bringing violence to universities was also deliberate. In 1984, General Zia placed a ban on student politics blaming it for bringing violence on campuses.
According to Aurangzaib, student unions are tainted with that false reputation even today. “Unions were banned 36 years ago, even before I was born, yet I’m questioned why they are violent when in fact I should be asking this question,” she said.
Aurangzaib added that such a platform is needed because the youth is looking at injustices around it and questioning it. All these problems, whether religious discrimination, gender violence or sectarian differences, are part of the capitalist conspiracy, she said.
“The elite class has introduced these differences among the middle and lower classes and is profiting off it,” the activist said. “All these people sit on the same table and the concept of minorities does not exist for them,” she said. “It’s all a game [to them].”
The panelists collectively condemned the imprisonment of student activists such as Alamgir Wazir and criticised the government for slapping terrorism charges on peaceful protests.
The panelists also opposed the concept of condition-based freedom and demanded that students should be given their long-due right.
“Na zulm karain gain, na zulm sahain gain, hum ye tafreek khatam karain gain,” Aurangzaib concluded. Translation: We will not torture, nor will we bear torture, we will end this discrimination.