The recent brawl at Punjab University (PU) has resulted in suspension of academic activities as administration started searching for the culprits. The chemistry lab was also set on fire and vehicles parked outside the department were also vandalized during the unrest that gripped the biggest university of Pakistan. As always, one student party was organizing an event and tensions went high as the other group protested against it. Things got violent and we end up in a law and order situation where police had to be called in to restore peace.
Regardless of which student group is responsible for this event, unrest in educational institutes is a recurring scene that demands investigation into deeper level rather than just have a one-shot committee which gets active only when any serious incidents happen and goes into hibernation afterwards.
The knee-jerk reaction to these incidents is always the same; students’ groups affiliated with political parties shouldn’t be allowed to have any activities inside campuses. On the surface, this demand seems straight and simple – in practice, it’s naïve. First, it is impossible to classify students as affiliated with political parties or not. Yes, groups like APMSO, IJT, PSF, etc. can be easily identified but once these groups are banned. Students can make other groups that don’t have any official connection with their parent political parties. Second, and the most important one, law and order should be maintained no matter what and failure in doing so must not be attributed to student politics.
Pakistan is a country where talk shows are currently more popular than prime time dramas. From local paan shop to discussions in family gatherings, ranging from marriage to death ceremonies, politics is one topic that dominates. How can you expect students of that society to eliminate themselves from politics, that too at a place where they have the best chance to convince others to join their cause?A university provides fertile environment to young minds to explore themselves. At this stage, they also enjoy a bit of liberty from their parents too that allows them to participate in life changing discussions. Universities are nurseries for political parties and like it or not, it provides fuel to the political mainstream of this country. I understand that political setup of Pakistan is messed up, big time, but that is a separate story and that can’t be brought in order by banning the political activities at campus. I am not saying that student political groups should be allowed to roam free – no, not at all.They must be accountable to university administration for creating any law and order situation, but it doesn’t mean that you start banning political groups altogether.
For me, political parties should be allowed to have their presence inside campus via students who share their cause. All the events should be organized by the permission of university administration which, in turn, must behave impartially – allowing free hand to some groups while restricting others always result in resentment that boils down to law and order situation. Students, who are involved in destructive activities, should be dealt with like adults and punished properly. The campus should introduce student unions under their watch with limited scope initially. As the time passes by and students unions are accustomed to behave in proper manner, their scope can be broadened towards autonomy.
There can be many ways to control violence at campuses with allowance of political activities. Banning students’ groups, whether political and/or apolitical, is definitely not one of them.