Student Unions : need of the hour
Karachi, June 30(The News): Some time back, a student had come to the University of Karachi (KU) to take her
Law exam. An employee tried to molest her; fortunately for her, a few students
arrived at the scene and rescued her. While the employees' union tried to save
the skin of the offender, the students on their part did their best to provide
justice to the female student. The former union did not support the students and
several hurdles were created in their way. Though the students eventually won
the tug-of-war, the incident made majority of KU students wish for a union that
could protect them in any such eventuality and fight on their behalf.
This incident has reopened many old wounds and has raised questions
about the efficacy of banning student unions in the educational institutions,
especially in universities. Student unions, before they were banned, played a
very important part in the lives of the students, who benefited from being
elected democratically and served as office holders: Councilors, Class
Representatives (CR), Faculty Representatives (FR), Secretaries, and Presidents
of union during their student days. These positions eventually inculcated in
them leadership qualities and groomed them for various roles; in the art of
public speaking, event organisation, meeting important people, helping the
student community and according respect to the teaching and non-teaching staff
of their institutions.
But even more importantly, the unions acted as a
buffer between students and the administration of the educational institutions.
They were a virtual parliament that formulated the laws of appropriate behaviour
and conducted civilised arguments as well as intellectual discourses that
ultimately won students useful concessions from the university
The ban on the student unions was imposed by General
Ziaul Haque on February 09, 1984, who used Islam to perpetuate his military
rule. He took this step by accusing the student unions of violence on the
campuses. He introduced elections on the basis of region, language, clan, etc
that opened the floodgates of regionalism and sectarianism and damaged the
social fabric of the society.
The proponents of the ban on the student
unions are wrong to say that the presence of unions destroys the peace of the
educational institutes. According to statistics, while student unions were
functional, a total of 151 clashes took place during which 13 were killed, 284
injured, 800 arrested and 110 rusticated in a period from 1947 to 1984 while the
unions were functioning.
The period that spans 1984 to 2004 saw 525
student clashes in which 165 got killed, 1,210 injured, 7,235 arrested and 985
rusticated. The increase in the violence took place within 20 years between
student groups who vow their allegiance and existence to various sectarian and
The Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1989 termed
the ban unconstitutional and ordered union elections in the educational
institutions. The government, however, failed to comply with the order, thus
giving rise to a number of questions. The ban is in contravention of Article 17
of the Constitution of Pakistan that allows the formation of associations.
Today, students find themselves in a precarious situation, as the absence of
unions lands them in hot waters for minor offences. It is ironic that staff and
teachers' unions are allowed to function in the universities that take care of
their members while the students have been left to fend for themselves.
It would be interesting to refer to a pertinent quote from Samuel
Huntington's 'Clash of Civilization,' which reads, "In most countries
fundamentalists winning control of student unions and similar organisations was
the first phase in the process of Political Islamisation, with the Islamists
'breakthrough' in universities occurring in the 1970s in Egypt, Pakistan and
Afghanistan, then mobbing on to other Muslim students in technical institutes,
engineering faculties, and scientific departments.'
One wonders if the
continuing ban on the student unions is part of the on-going 'Enlightened
Moderation' process undertaken by media and NGOs to please and garner some bread
and butter from the rulers and their foreign masters.