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Resumption of students' union activities may quell campus violence

Karachi, April 02, 2008: Calls for lifting the ban on students' unions have been echoing for close to two-and-a-half decades, ever since General Ziaul Haq enforced the prohibition in 1984. However, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's announcement on the floor of the National Assembly on March 29, withdrawing the proscription on students' union activities (among other 'people friendly' policies) has been hailed across the board.

We spoke to several academics, politicians and activists belonging to political parties' student wings to gauge what effect the announcement and the eventual resumption of students' unions will have on the city's campuses.

The resounding consensus is that the decision will help create a more tolerant atmosphere conducive to learning on campuses and that hopefully, the vicious fits of violence that the city's colleges and universities have witnessed for over two decades, involving feuding student political groups, will become a thing of the past.

"We've always wanted the ban to be lifted so that students can be given their rights. There are unions in every profession, so why should students be deprived? This will allow students to realize their potential. It will create a democratic culture on campus and will create leadership for the future. A large portion of the current crop of leaders belonging to political and religious parties participated in student union activities.

"If one recalls, Benazir Bhutto had also announced the lifting of the ban in 1988. However, for some reason elections were only held in Punjab. The prime minister's pronouncement should be implemented in letter and spirit. There should be elections countrywide," said Arshad Shah, a spokesman for the All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organization, the student wing of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

Arshad Naqvi, Karachi head of the Pakistan People's Party-allied People's Student Federation, was equally upbeat.

"It's a great decision. The ban was placed by a military dictator. It totally deprived students of their rights. The credit goes to Benazir Bhutto, for it was her government that initiated efforts to re-establish the unions in 1988. But some vested interests botched that effort as there was bloodshed during elections in the Punjab. This time it was included in the PPP's manifesto and thanks to Mr Zardari and Mr Gilani's efforts, it is being implemented."

Syed Munawar Hasan, Secretary-General of the Jamaat-i-Islami, who actively participated in union activities during his student days, was highly critical of the time it took to re-establish the unions.

"It has taken 25 years to take this step. A quarter century has been wasted. People have been deprived of leadership as the unions used to be training grounds for future leaders. The vice-chancellors should help implement this decision and a code of conduct should definitely be formed. There should be a genuine effort to help establish the system of student unions," he said.

Asked how he thought the students of today would adapt to a system they largely have no clue about, Mr Hasan said the current generation would catch on in due time.

'The students will adapt'

"The students will adapt very quickly. This generation has a great knack for picking things up quickly. The only thing is that in the past, students had an ideological orientation, whether it was towards the left, right or Islam. This is missing today and the result may be that activities will be a bit bland. But I think in due time the unions will meet the students' academic and extra-curricular needs."

Kazi Saleem, spokesman of the University of Karachi, said that as long as there was no political interference and discipline was maintained, the situation looked extremely conducive.

"There has been a leadership void. However, it is a great decision. It is a great responsibility on the students. There are great young minds out there and if there is no political interference, a lot is possible. Activities like debates will bring forth the leaders of tomorrow. The vice-chancellor has told the student adviser to sort out the logistics (of establishing union activities). It will take time in character building and instilling discipline, but change is definitely in the air," he said, citing the example of Aligarh Muslim University as a training ground for outstanding, well-rounded leaders that excelled in their fields.

Controlling violence

Student leaders were also sure that the resumption of union activities would help control the monstrous violence Karachi's campuses have seen.

"There has been violence in the past. However, in the last few years I feel there's been a drop. Student unions will further reduce violence. Student parties should get together and form a code of ethics to ensure peace on campuses, as well as create an atmosphere conducive to learning and extra-curricular activities," said Mr Shah.

"Violence spiked after the ban was enforced in 1984. Violence has become part of the system. Even now some people are trying to sabotage efforts to re-establish the unions. But we are hopeful. If relatively peaceful elections can be organised on the national level, then I don't see why peaceful elections cannot be held on campus," observed Mr Naqvi. Dawn

Societies in schools unhappy over lifting of ban on student unions
Lahore: Students associated with various societies in educational institutions in the city have said that the restoration of student unions would disturb the positive activities launched by the societies.

Students said that with the restoration of unions, the peaceful environment of schools would be disturbed and the students who are involved in positive activities would be disheartened.

On March 30, Prime Minster Yousaf Raza Gillani, lifted a ban on students unions. The ban was imposed by former president Gen Ziaul Haq in 1984. With the lifting of the ban, almost all student unions, especially those with political support, have started working in several important institutions of the city. They have also started campaigning for union elections.

Adeel Ahmed, a student of Government College University (GCU), said that there were about 40 societies at the university. He said the societies were working for constructive purposes in the university, such as organising lectures, seminars, workshops and blood camps for the students.

Ahmed said that he was also a member of the GCU's Debating Society. He said that the student unions would disturb the societies' activities. He said that student unions were famous for 'hooliganism'. He said the students were worried that the unions would mar the peaceful environment of their universities.

Beenish, a student of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), said she liked the peaceful manner in which societies in the institutions across the city were working. She said that the societies of LUMS were working to promote the students' skills on the national and international levels. She said that she was not against student unions as they were also working in many Western countries, but "the unions of our country were being used by politicians for their vested interests".

Sadaf Hassan, a student of Lahore College for Women University, said that academic activities suffered due to political activities. She said that though extracurricular activities were part of the students' academic careers, the students would avoid them because of the involvement of unions, which have a notorious reputation in the country. She said, "I think we don't need to make a union in institutions since we already have several societies that are working to make the environment of the schools better."

Students need to be educated: Arifa Sarfaraz, communication adviser of Beaconhouse National University (BNU), said that the culture of societies was developing in the BNU and its students were learning to use the societies in a positive manner. She said that she was not against student unions, but their roles should be defined. She said the students should be educated on how they could use the unions in a constructive way.

Noreen, a student of Kinnaird College, said, "It is ironic that students distributed sweets after the prime minister lifted the ban on student unions because they don't even know what unions are." She was of the view that the prime minister's decision would help political parties use students for their vested interests by supporting student unions. She added that the unions were know to fan 'hooliganism' in schools, which would disturb the prevailing peaceful environment of the schools. Daily Times

Non-students to be kicked out: MSF-N
Lahore: The central president of the Muslim Students' Federation-Nawaz (MSF-N) Tuesday said that non-students would be kicked out of educational institutions and not allowed to use the student body's name.

Speaking at a press conference held at Muslim League House, Muslim Town, Rana Muhammad Arshad said the federation would also discourage extortionists and those politicising educational institutions at gun point.

He said students of the MSF would play an important role in restoration of student unions and meet the expectations of their leaders.

He said restoration of student unions was a longstanding demand of students. He vowed to restore the sanctity of educational institutions.

He said restoration of student unions was the result of efforts made by PML-N leaders Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif.

Arshad said the MSF-N also demanded provision of free education, hostel facility for students from far-flung areas, transport and restoration of remarking system. He said all district organisations of MSF had been directed to send their details to provincial offices within 15 days. He said formation of units in educational institutions across the country would be completed by April 25. MSF-N office bearers were also present at the press conference. The News

Your Comments

"i think restoration of student union is very helpful for the growth of mental abilities of students. "
Name: m shoaib
City, Country: faisalabad, Pakistan

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