My feet are still sore after hours of chaap at the celebration of restoration of the rusticated students at Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU). But was the restoration justified? The question lingers. Some of the students involved in a mayhem that left the University sabotaged for weeks were expelled to set an example for the rest of the students. But the “comrades” were able to pressurize the administration to take back their decision by protesting, blocking the University buses, arranging camps to sit on hunger strikes and raising slogans of “Degree or Death”.
Long live the student struggle; a struggle against the authoritative force of administration, and for the right of the students to education.
Months earlier, I was called upon to join the Baloch students gathering at QAU to fight against the Sindhi students who had strategically set up groups on hostel roofs after attacking some of them at university huts. I refused to join. The idea of blindly following orders from some representative of a student body based on ethnicity didn’t appeal to me. But why it appealed to so many Baloch students was no mystery to me. These young men come from different parts of Balochistan and are introduced to each other in cities like Islamabad through student councils. They learn to take pride in the image of Balochs that has been propagated by songs that glorify their valour and hail them as rebels against oppression. They perform chaap to the tunes of revolutionary songs glamorizing Baloch freedom fighters and organizations like BSO. The revolutionaries of Balochistan are all dead, missing or have escaped to mountains. But the generations of Baloch students who have been bred on such songs and anthems have always remained eager to do more than just chaap. They might lack heroism of the freedom fighters and revolutionaries (who rebelled against the state). But they sure had the spirits to unite against Sindhi students who had strategically lured them into a fight. They saw an opportunity to further propagate their image of warriors and rebels. The reaction by the Baloch students was inevitable. Their fellows had been attacked. And Sindhi students being aware of the probable retaliation had set up their defenses in preparation. The clash on May on hostel roofs at QAU witnessed injuries, gunshots and turned the university into a battlefield. A video that went viral on social media showed Sindhi students jumping off from roofs after Baloch students, the pseudo-revolutionaries and aspiring warriors were seen lynching at them. From the administration’s perspective, it was an absolute necessity to take action against those involved and the student leaders and prominent role players from Baloch and Sindhi student councils in incidents leading to the clash were easy targets for the administration. But was closing doors of education to a few students to ensure education for the rest without such incidents taking place in the future wise? Here’s where the students’ bodies and administration disagreed.
Quaidian Student Federation (QSF) set out to protest against the university administration and put forward their demands including the restoration of rusticated students. But upon the rest of their demands being met, QSF left Baloch student council on its own to continue their protest against the rustication of their comrades. Despite the Sindhi students being among those expelled for creating disturbances in the university premise, the Sindh student council sided with QSF and backtracked from any further demonstrations. The Baloch students had gained enough momentum from QSF’s cooperation until then to continue protesting until their demand was met. After the arrests of protesting Baloch students and police brutality against them triggered a social media campaign against the QAU administration, which garnered nationwide sympathies and encouraged involvement of several politicians from Balochistan in attempts to convince the vice chancellor to change his mind – the last step was the camp where NaurozJamali and Saddam Baloch sat on a hunger strike in protest against the student expulsions and were able to force the QAU administration surrender against the student power. Authorities planned to make an example out of a few students. But a few students had been able to set an example for the authorities. The students who had stood their ground and demanded for their right to get their degrees had won against the authorities trying to look for shortcuts to solve complicated issues.
There are many lessons to be learned from the saga at QAU. One, the regression of student politics which can be traced back to Zia’s regime has led to the curtailment of student politics on ethnic grounds rather than political grounds. Students who once united against dictatorial regimes now unite under banners of ethnicity to fight over ridiculously petty issues. Two, that the university administrations need to prioritize student consensus, while acknowledging the student power and try understanding their problems before attempting to solve them lest they find themselves making irresponsible decisions while ignoring empirical truths.