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Editorial

March 14, 2018

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Teachers under threat

Over the years, the Punjab University has become a hotbed for student violence. This threat of violence has not spared the university’s professors either. This week, two professors of the university – Ammar Ali Jan and Islam Wazir – were targeted in a malicious hate campaign online. In the past few months, the university has seen a rising atmosphere of student clashes – mostly between the Islami Jamiat Taleba and various student groups. These came to a head in January this year, after which around half a dozen students were expelled from the university. Last week, a number of Baloch and Pakhtun students had organised a sit-in outside the vice chancellor’s office demanding the withdrawal of the expulsion order. It is in this context that we must look at the hate propaganda that has begun to appear online against professors Jan and Wazir for – bizarrely – preaching the message of non-violence.

The apparent crime of the two professors seems to be to talk to the students about the idea of a non-violent struggle and connect it to the students’ everyday encounter with violence on campus. The propaganda and threats have been made via a specific Facebook page that is allegedly run by members of the IJT. The main charge against the professors is that they are inciting ethnic groups to violence against the university administration. In reality, though, the professors were not part of any protest and had reportedly been asked by the VC himself to act as mediators between the administration and the protesting students. For now, the professors have moved the FIA to take note of the offending Facebook page.

The unfortunate fact is that it has only been such right-wing elements as the IJT that have had an absolute grip over campus politics – or the lack thereof – at Punjab University. The attempts by university administration to curb their power have been weak at best. Many progressive academics still remember the dark days of the General Zia dictatorship, when they were attacked by members of the IJT. The rich political and academic culture of public-sector universities was surrendered to a right-wing student group under the guise of the ban on student unions. The result was a cycle of student violence as, by design, guns replaced campus democracy. In recent days too, particularly after the horrifying Mashal Khan case, fears that progressive teachers and students in the country could be targeted by hate campaigns have become even more real. This was lent further credibility after Ziaullah Hamdard, Mashal’s teacher, recently disclosed that he too has been facing threats. The targeting of teachers who recommend non-violent protest makes one thing clear: those preaching hate against them are advocating violence on campus and outside. The power that groups such as the IJT have held over our universities is on the basis of violence. It is then fairly simple to understand why anyone advocating the opposite would be considered dangerous. While both the university administration and the FIA must protect these faculty members from being targeted by such hate campaigns, there is also a need to break the cycle of violence that has turned a once vibrant university campus into one in which students and professors fear for their lives, limbs, liberty – and reputations.

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