Of Journalism

March 8, 2009

Ban or boon?

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 9:31 am

Ban or boon?


Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in his first speech to the National Assembly, after being elected with a two-thirds majority, announced the lifting of ban on student and labor unions. Two kudos and too much trepidations. Many hailed the decision. They are of the view that democracy starts at the grass-roots level where young students learn the intricacies of leadership. There are no two words about that. However, the announcement raised many an eyebrow also fearing the politicization of the already polarized educational institutions.

Since 1984, when the military dictator Ziaul Haq slapped a ban on student unions, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), the student wing of the Jama’at-i-Islami, monopolized the educational institutions across the country. Unchecked by any, the Jama’at students terrorized the whole community on the campuses in their zest for ‘Islamising’ the students and the education itself. This led to the emergence of a highly polarized situation on one hand; on the other, it circumvented pluralism on the campuses. Students and teachers found it difficult to expound their views on anything freely. Because everything was to be seen and debated within the parameters of a narrow ideology. Life was reduced to black and white without any grey areas. The fact is that life is all about the grey area which faded away in our society. While other student groups were hounded, the IJT had a field day to terrorize not only the students but even the teaching faculty.

The ban was imposed ostensibly to stop politicking in educational institutions. However, it produced the reverse results: atmosphere at the campuses became more polarized—and in many cases militarized. It caused a brain drain when the liberal-minded intellectuals were forced to leave the campus for greener pastures where they could breathe freely and express their thoughts without any fear. Pakistani universities, since then, are ruled by mediocre who stifle debate in the name of ideology and morality.

Ridiculously enough, during this period of regimentation in the name of Islam and morality, plagiarism flourished—as if intellectual stealing has nothing to do with religion and morality. University of the Punjab, which has been in the throttle grip of the IJT since long, has been in the press but for the wrong reasons. Five teachers at its Center for High Energy Physics have been found guilty of plagiarism. A professor of Applied Psychology Department has been dismissed from service after his MSc degree showing first division was found to be based on bogus notification.

This is the morality that has been pushed down the throat of the university students and teachers. What is more intriguing is that the Punjab university administration is finding it difficult to take any action against the plagiarists because they are protected by the Jama’at. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has stopped funding to the university for its dithering over the plagiarism issue.

From 1984 onwards the campuses saw more violence and less peace. Educational institutions are considered the breeding ground for the future leadership. By electing their leaders the student develop a taste for democracy, while the elected ones, while speaking for the rights of the students, learn how to negotiate on behalf of the community.

However in Pakistan, the student unions turned into a bane when they became hand tools of the mainstream political and religious parties. At their beck and call, the student unions are being used by the parent parties for their own political ends. Thus the dirty politics of the streets creep into the campuses. Egged by the support from the outside the education institutions, the student unions fought their war among themselves spilling a lot of blood.

One expected that before lifting the ban on student unions the government would have evolved a mechanism to ‘free’ the students form the stranglehold of mainstream political and religious parties. It is hard to oppose student unions, but it is far harder to see them play puppets to the religious and political parties. The 24-year old ban did not help our education system, but the lifting of ban in the present circumstances is going to radicalize the environment on the campuses.


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