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September 29, 2019

IJT violence

Editorial

 
September 29, 2019

The Islami Jamiaat-e-Tuleba, affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami, retains its power on Punjab University campuses throughout the province, sometimes holding administrations hostage and determining what activities it will ‘permit’ to other students. Recently in Lahore, there have been a series of incidents involving the IJT and Baloch students, who have attempted to stand up for their own rights. In the past, Pashtun students have become caught up in a similar struggle with the group, which is able to bring its chosen cadres into hostels and use this as one means of asserting its control. Various versions exist as to the precise nature of the latest incident, which took place at the PU campus in Lahore. The most widely reported version states that an event on Kashmir was being held when IJT activists attacked Baloch students present near the stage. It is unclear if the Baloch students were attending the event or merely passing by. The IJT has said the Baloch students had attempted to disrupt the event at which the amir of the IJT was also speaking, but it is difficult to know the truth between all these differing versions. What we do know is that three students were injured in the clash and the university administration is under pressure to take disciplinary action.

A major problem is that there is no power on campuses able to tackle the IJT or to put up a stand against it. This dates back to 1984 when student unions were banned under General Ziaul Haq as part of a wider policy to prevent dissent against his regime. The IJT alone was allowed to flourish and the results have been disastrous. There have been incidents where the group has tried to segregate male and female students, harass those walking along campus together or prevent certain subjects from being taught. This should be unacceptable at any university. Discussions and debates on various topics have also been ‘disallowed’ by the IJT through the threat of violence they so frequently use.

The short-term answer is of course to take action against any students involved in violence or in physically attacking each other. But there has to be a longer-term solution as well. This must involve the restoration of student unions, so that there can be intellectual and ideological growth on campuses. A shaky attempt by then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, himself a student leader before his political career, was made during his tenure in power after 2008 to restore unions. This came to nothing. Even today, many vice-chancellors continue to oppose student unions on the grounds that they will mar discipline. But is what we are seeing now discipline? It is also a fact that student unions with many different ideological views exist on campuses all over the world and their presence has in fact helped to calm dissent rather than heighten unrest or create problems. Student unions are essential to our future.