UNIVERSITIES are supposed to be islands of hope, where young people come to quench their thirst for knowledge, and learn about building a better society. Unfortunately, in Pakistan these lof ty ideals have undergone a violent reality check, as some of the country`s top academic institutions have been transformed into battlegrounds for feuding student groups.
Over the past few days, academic activities have been disturbed and violent brawls have broken out at Punjab University in Lahore as well as Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. In both instances, student councils divided along ethnic lines clashed with each other over trivial issues. At PU, a trifle over a cricket match ended up in a violent brawl between members of the Punjabi and Pakhtun councils; at least 69 students were bundled off to jail for 30 days. Meanwhile, over at QAU, a similar disagreement between Pakhtun and Baloch students ended up in a melee, with the result that cases have been filed against hundreds of students, while academic activities at the varsity were also suspended. Students and civil society activists claim hostels were emptied out in the dark of the night, with female students told to find alternative lodging arrangements.
The sad fact is that these unfortunate events at Pakistan`s centres of higher learning reflect the violence and intolerance that have become ingrained in our society. One major factor fuelling discontent on campus is the continuing ban on student unions. Banned by Gen Zia, numerous governments have promised to revive the bodies, but to no avail. The latest was the Sindh administration, which passed a law in this regard last year, but there has been no progress in the matter. When students are denied the right to form unions, they organise along ethnic, political, religious or sectarian lines, which only exacerbates the divide in society. To encourage a democratic culture on campus, and check violent tendencies, the revival of student unions across Pakistan is vital.