Towards legalising student unions
It would be a great democratic service to the country if Prime Minister Imran Khan allows the restoration of student unions; though subject to a “comprehensive and enforceable code of conduct,” of course. Perhaps taking a clue from the overwhelming support for the demand in the wake of the successful Student Solidity March across the country on November 30, the government has started considering the issue. The prime minister tweeted: “Universities groom future leaders of the country and student unions form an integral part of this grooming. Unfortunately, in Pakistani universities, student unions became violent battlegrounds and completely destroyed the intellectual atmosphere on campuses.” In another tweet, he emphasised the restoration of unions after a well-thought out strategy, which is indeed a good strategy. His fear about the proliferation of violent groups on campuses is well-founded as the Punjab University had to penalise over a dozen students for violence and breaching discipline. Violence on campuses, however, is the byproduct of the ban on student unions by the Zia martial law regime roughly 35 years ago. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, which often takes credit for politicising the youth for their democratic rights, should have announced the restoration of student unions well ahead of the students’ march.
The fresh announcement, though a welcome one, has not come without a spoiler: the police have registered a case against the march activists, including the father of late student activist Mashaal Khan, for taking out the procession. Not only this, a student activist was abducted from the Punjab University campus the following day. Such acts, we believe, are only meant to cloud the spirit of the prime minister’s announcement on the restoration of student unions. The government must take notice of the police case and the disappearance of the student activist.
The prime minister’s step to restore unions is likely to get massive approval from both sides of the aisle in the House. On the day of the students’ march, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari announced his support for the rallies as well as the demand for lifting the ban on union activities. The National Awami Party has long been a supporter of healthy student activism, while PML-N and other mainstream parties have also voiced their support. Ministers like Dr Shereen Mazari, Fawad Chaudhry and Firdous Ashiq Awan have openly favoured the students’ demands. Other than unions, students have also spoken out for the establishment of committees in institutes to probe into sexual harassment cases as well as ensuring representation of students on these committees. Their other demand is the removal of security forces’ offices from campuses and an end to undue checking. These demands also merit attention of the authorities. *
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