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November 8, 2019

Union ban


November 8, 2019

Student unions in the history of our own country, and in the history of other nations, have traditionally produced leaders who can help build their country and take it forward through their ability to influence people and argue their case. In a unanimous resolution, tabled by the PPP and backed by the MQM, GDA and PTI, the Sindh Assembly has asked the provincial government to lift the ban on student unions and introduce a code of conduct which could prevent tension and skirmishes between rival student groups on campuses. These skirmishes have been an alarmingly frequent occurrence in recent years.

Student unions had played a vibrant role in national life and at universities until they were banned by the regime of General Ziaul Haq in 1984. There has recently been growing debate on restoring student unions. Those in favour of this argue that the ban violates constitutional right to freedom of association. After 2008 the PPP government elected that year had made an attempt to remove the ban, but this was struck down by the courts. There is also a division among college and university heads over student unions and their role in the life of those pursuing higher education.

There is however no doubt that unions allow students from all sides of the political and ideological divide to put forward their opinions and for other students to hear these arguments, expanding their vision and their knowledge. It is also true that student unions have traditionally been the nursery for political leaders of the future. Many of our present-day politicians made their beginnings as leaders of unions as did those playing a prominent role in other walks of life. The Pakistan of today badly needs to develop a culture of tolerance and acceptance for differing views. Debates, public speeches and other events organized by student unions, which should not be affiliated directly with a political party, can help build such a culture. After a ban that has lasted over three decades it is perhaps time to bring back unions. It may take these bodies time to develop and mature but they could play an immensely useful role in controlling violence on campus and promoting the idea that those holding different opinions can coexist and work together towards a common purpose.

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