Putting the 'S' in student politics
Karachi, Oct 1: The henious crime committed earlier this month, which claimed the
lives of innocent commuters among which were Karachi University students, evoked
memories of the 1989 mayhem on campus. The students were predominantly activists
of the Islami Jamiat Talba.
In 1989, the death of three students of the
Peoples Students Federation (PSF) resulted in the deployment of Rangers at the
campus. The banal difference between the 1989 incident and this one is that the
latest act of terror occurred outside the campus on University Road whereas the
1989 episode was perpetrated right in the heart of Karachi University. "The 1989
killings ultimately raised safety concerns, addressed with the deployment of
Rangers, but this latest incident has proven the very deployment somewhat
futile," a former campus security officer said.
What baffles one is the
venomous nature of the latest act of terrorism. After shooting students on-board
the bus, the assailants detonated a grenade while fleeing from the scene. "It
seems an attempt to destroy the crime scene making it look ambiguous," said a
police officer, who is a former university student.
"It was really a
painful incident and seeing the victims' relatives at the hospital brought tears
to my eyes without knowing the victims," a photo journalist said. Like many
others, he too wanted to know what makes students at learning higher education
hostile towards one another so much that taking lives has become more frequent
these days at different educational institutions.
The denial of the
right to have their own unions has turned student politics unaccountable to a
majority of students, for which they all want to be there. The students unions
used to represent the wider democratic culture, which demanded a better face for
votes. Every student organisation fielded position holders as their candidates
and that showed the commitment of student politics.
"With the students
unions outlawed, this moral binding has no place at campuses," said the Director
of the Pakistan Study Centre, Dr Jafar Ahmed, while arguing that the political
parties operating at a larger scale don't need students unions as any wider
political compulsion. "As election for student unions make them accountable and
answerable to their electorate, why they would invite such compulsions."
According to a political scientist, the absence of any electoral
pressure has encouraged student organisations to do whatever suits them best.
"We have seen arms proliferating and getting legitimised in the 80s and then an
organised cheating mafia emerged at school and college levels. Now, the
political organisations are not working under any democratic pressure and are
least bothered about a genuine democratic face."
The question is why
does every successive democratic regime, despite having their affiliated student
wings, avoid granting students their right to have unions? Even today, the
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), ruling
Sindh and NWFP respectively, for almost five years, did not hold student union
elections in their provincial limits. Many have different answers but nobody can
take the responsibility for not challenging the 1984 ban on student unions by
Gen. Ziaul Haq.
"It seems that the political parties, in line with the
establishment, have reached a broad consensus over not holding student union
elections," a former student leader of Karachi University suspected. "If that is
the case, then I feel for the poor students, who are ignorant about this fact
and are striving to exist in a territory (campus), which has surrendered to
paramilitary forces a long time back surrendered as per a very strategic game
Dubbing student politics essentially as an anti-establishment
affair, he believed that student unions were granted status during the Cold War
era and with the disintegration of USSR, efforts were made to vaporise all
"Student politics provide a political
atmosphere where a handful of people can play a major role, but in the absence
of that political process, even a major political force can't change a thing,"
he added. The News