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Saturday, May 18, 2024

What do academics think of the Student Unions in Pakistan?

GVS approached academics to have their views on the significance of the student unions at educational institutions. Here are the two completely opposing arguments. 

Students across Pakistan protested with a demand for lifting the ban from student unions in all colleges and universities of the country on November 29 (yesterday). Apart from some other demands, the core demand was to give students the lawful right to have unions of their own at the campuses.

Young university students initiated the campaign from Lahore which, with the help of public intellectuals and civil society, spread over across the country. Student’ leaders demanded the present government take immediate steps in order to show its seriousness in upgrading the polarized and class-based education system of Pakistan.

Progressive Students’ Collective and Progressive Students’ Federation are jointly working to make the protest successful. Haider Kaleem, one of the organizers, says that “the Students Solidarity March is very important”.

However, netizens raised some questions about the alleged association of young activists with the leaders of the PTM who recently attacked some army check posts in Waziristan.

People also criticized the march for a weird photo which went viral.

Moreover, the demand to lift ban from student unions created a controversy among political commentators and academics who view it quite differently. GVS approached some experts in this regard to record their views in order to offer an alternative, other side of the story, to its readers.

Why should Student Unions not be Supported?

Rana Umair Farooq, who teaches Social Work at a government college, believes that these young students are likely to be misused by the politicians since this has been happening in this country since long. He suggested the government to bring immediate structural changes/reforms in the current education system in order to counter any challenge which may ultimately disrupt social process and create cultural chaos.

International media and global civil society offer unconditional support to any step being taken by any individual or group in order to protect or defend democracy

“I hold,” said Mr. Umair, “a restrained view about the student unions at campuses”. He further explained that “I firmly believe that students should be made confident, self-reliant and well-versed with ongoing political processes but not through student unions. I think the same objective can be adequately be achieved in a smooth way through literary societies, discussion forums and character-building societies at educational institutions across the country. This is the need of the hour. Unfortunately, our governments do not pay any attention on such [required] institutional reforms which can play crucial role in the future course of Pakistan”.

While talking about extensive international media coverage being given to this March, he highlighted some points. He said that “I am unable to completely comprehend the reason behind ‘excessive’ international media coverage being given to this Student Solidarity March. Do they [international media] support any campaign or movement without any hidden agenda? What does history tell us? I am afraid if these young students or their supporters in Pakistan’s civil society are taking these aspects into consideration”. Moreover, he warned, saying “do not forget the fact that several agencies and global powers are targeting Pakistan to destabilize it in order to achieve their regional political and strategic interests”.

Read more: 29th November: Students Out on Streets Across Pakistan to Demand Rights

“Notably”, Mr.Umair concluded “student unions work independently and according to their legally determined mandate where there is strict rule of law. In a society like ours where the powerful politicians or religious clerics are directly or indirectly involved in campus politics such unions shall create more problems than they may resolve”.

Why should Student Unions be Supported?

G-M Pitafi, who teaches Politics and International Relations at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore, argues that these unions are the basic requirement for any democracy to function and evolve smoothly. He spoke to GVS and explained significance of the student unions. “Let’s be clear about one thing. I do not buy any arguments like we are a society where there is no rule of law and a society without objective morals; therefore, we cannot have students with tough questions, student unions, rationality or a demand for genuine civil supremacy. These are various (informal) manifestations of the doctrine of necessity, which is often used by the courts in Pakistan to legitimize what is otherwise illegitimate,” he said.

He also said “I have seen people asking who is behind these campaigns or protests? Let’s be clear about one thing. Liberal democracy is under threat across the world. Therefore, international media and global civil society offer unconditional support to any step being taken by any individual or group in order to protect or defend democracy. These protests are part of global struggle for the protection of democracy. Hence, international media is offering them extensive coverage”.

Moreover, he said that “there are arguments suggesting that these unions shall become a target of the mainstream political parties for their political interests. This is true. But what does it imply? Ban student unions? Does it sound like a great idea? In my opinion, the government (state) is responsible to keep the student unions independent of external support so that nobody can exploit them. In this regard, rules can be made after careful analysis of the current circumstances”. He emphasized on the idea that if something is procedurally incorrect or dysfunctional we need to ensure new procedures to fix it, not to eradicate the idea itself and become ‘unnecessarily protectionists’.

Read more: Propaganda against PU: University did not cancel Husnain Faridi’s degree, PRO PU