The long silence on student front

students unions Oct: The voice of the student community was effectively silenced when General Zia imposed country-wide ban on their unions in colleges and universities. The dictator had not forgotten the role students had played in the downfall of Ayub Khan and the rise to popular leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was himself a beneficiary of the mass agitation the Jamaat student wing, the IJT, had led in unseating the PPP leader.
By isolating and excluding the largest section of the educated population from mainstream social polity he not only deprived society of its young blood, with its high ambition and ideals, but also closed the training ground that traditionally prepared the leadership for the future. His was a fearful rule for eleven barren, muted years when all that grew were weeds and canker worms. When he had an elected prime minister removed from the scene judicially the silence on the roads proclaimed the success of his demonic strategy. The nation had been sapped of its vitality.

Before the suppression of students participation in the affairs of the country the essentially voluntary character of their engagement with national issues had been vitiated by formation of student wings of political parties in institutions of higher learning. These political wings divided the student community into rival groups that turned campuses into battle grounds and greatly disturbed the peace and serenity of the institutions which affected their educational careers. The ban on unions further strengthened these surrogate student bodies and campus life was corrupted by infusion of funds that political parties paid to the leaders of these student wings. So just as depoliticisation of representative institutions and the electoral process splintered the body politic into all kinds of mutually antagonistic fissiparous groups, the ban on college and university unions and their federations destroyed the student community's voluntary character as a proactive participant in national life.

Deprived of their rightful role in national life and the healthy activities associated with it this massive body of our educated youth slumped into confusion, abject conformism and loss of interest in public affairs. Intellectual decay in academia resulted in students adopting orthodox modes of thinking as some others turned to seek solace in drugs. Over the years gross neglect of education and the failure of the educational system had resulted in the mushroom growth of expensive private institutions to which the rich started sending their children abandoning government schools and colleges where the rich and the poor used to study together. In the Dennys High School, Rawalpindi, where I studied, my class fellows were sons of the rich Bohri community of Adamji Road as well as wards of the high bureaucracy and military brass. Not any more. For the very poor now emerged the foreign funded madressahs where all that the children in white skull caps were taught was some sectarian version of religion. The resultant product of these institutions having had no exposure to civil society struggles for social or economic justice are a lost wayward lot who cannot agitate even for their own rights collectively. Jobless youth can be seen wandering from office to office handing applications but cannot unite as a body to make their demands heard. Sons and daughters of the rich meanwhile strum guitars and make a fool of themselves before hand-waving audiences who have nothing better to do. Where in the West pop art forms are a rebellion against the establishment, here they are just fashion. The clever among them in the footsteps of their time-serving elders have formed groups like 'Lovers of Asif Zardari' and 'Lovers of Musharraf'. This is the total content of their political awareness.

As a result human rights groups that have emerged on the social scene to fill the void created by public apathy are too few and far between. They agitate causes in scattered groups. Common people have shrunk back as they are too wary of confrontations that have not brought any betterment in their lot. The young hot blood of the students community that used to be in the forefront of public agitations is not there to amplify the voice of protest and contribute its educated support to the cause. The forces of oppression have become stronger in the face of weak public responses and politicians are being taunted for not being able to bring out crowds on the road. Coming from the government and the judiciary this challenge to politicians means that public protests, processions and agitation on the roads which the establishment never fails to obstruct are accepted as justified political activity.

The vocal sections of the civil society mostly comprise old gentlemen, retired people who can at best appear in TV talk shows but their number is not enough to make protesting crowds sizably respectable. The lawyers and the journalists and non-governmental organisations with human rights groups are the only voluntary groups struggling against the might of an establishment that is not impressed by the quality of the protest but will only be convinced by quantity. There are not many sensitive and socially responsible individuals like this young man Adnan Sattar who in support of the lawyers' position on the presidential candidacy got a beating from the police and sustained injuries during Saturday's violence in Islamabad. A highly educated social scientist and a talented poet he had nothing to gain from it but he just cannot sit and watch and be indifferent to the great and historic struggle for peoples legitimate rule that some sections of civil society are waging. He thinks he must stand up and be counted like the tiny bird in the story (poet Harris Khalique keeps looking for occasions to tell) which was seen bringing droplets of water in its beak to extinguish Nimrud's fire. When taunted on the futility of the effort, the bird had queried: Oughtn't I be among those who tried to put out the fire? - Dawn



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