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November 29, 2019

The importance of students


November 29, 2019

There are conflicting views regarding student politics and unions. Some people consider student politics as the only way for young people belonging to middle- and lower-middle classes and the working class to enter mainstream politics.

Student politics provides an opportunity for young men and women without big money, family connections and patronage to emerge on the political scene. Student politics introduce them to different political ideologies and ideas. This increases their understanding of political, social and economic issues and their solutions. They learn a culture of tolerance and democratic debate.

But for some it is all a waste of time, energy and talent. They believe that student politics spoils students so they should just concentrate on their studies to get their degrees. They argue that student politics encourage violence and intolerance. But historical facts negate this assertion.

Politics in its essence is not lies or deceit or showing muscle and money power or using the dirty tactics to gain power. This is more the power politics of the ruling classes and elite. They need lies, dirty tactics and distortions to hide the failure of their governance, socio-economic system and policies.

Politics is the way for the oppressed, deprived and exploited classes and the middle class to change their socio-economic conditions and improve their living and working conditions. The ruling classes create and spread the perception that politics is the dirtiest thing to do so good people must stay away from it. This perception serves the interests of ruling classes perfectly well.

It is generally believed that politics is the domain of feudals, capitalists, former civil and military bureaucrats and influential rich families. So middle class and working class people should not indulge in politics.

The ruling classes and the powers that be are the ones who are afraid of student politics. They see the rise of student politics as a threat to their interests and elitist politics. Young leaders and activists bring new ideas, thoughts and energy into political parties. The political leaders and activists that emerge from student politics and unions put pressure on the structures of different political parties to accommodate them. They challenge the old layer of leadership. That is what most of the leaders don’t want.

So it is not easy thing to engage in politics at a young age in societies like Pakistan. One has to face lot of problems and overcome many odds to enter the arena of student politics and activism. But these odds multiply when one enters progressive and leftwing politics. Opposition comes from family, university/college administrations and state authorities. There are just a few lucky people who gets family support for his radical progressive activism.

These young women and men defy all odds to become politically active. They must be appreciated and encouraged instead of discouraging them and levelling all sorts of allegations against them. We must listen to their grievances and demands. They might not be in big numbers but they still represent the collective consciousness of the youth, especially students. I don’t know why some people become uneasy watching young women and men chanting revolutionary slogans and reciting radical poetry.

It is really fascinating to see courageous young women and men chanting these slogans of hope and real change with their youthful energy and enthusiasm. It is inspiring indeed to watch a new generation of student activists re-inventing these radical slogans.

Students belonging to different education institutions, including public universities across Pakistan, are going to organise the Students Solidarity March in 40 cities today (November 29). It is an important initiative to revive progressive student politics and activism in Pakistan.

The students will march on the streets across Pakistan for the restoration of student unions, to stop the privatisation of education, to end the authoritarian and repressive atmosphere on campuses, to stop cuts on higher education and for more allocation for education.

They will raise their voice against austerity and neoliberal policies. The neoliberal onslaught on education has made it a commodity to sale. Education has been made so expensive that poor and working class families no more afford university education.

This is the beginning – an important one – of a new phase of collective struggle and resistance. From France to the US and Africa to Asia, students have triggered many revolutionary movements. They have not only fought for their own rights but also for democracy, radical reforms, peace and social change. Pakistan has been no exception. The NSF, DSF, NSO and later PSF emerged as left leaning, progressive student organisations while the IJT, ATI and MSF represent rightwing and religious ideologies.

A student movement triggered a mass revolutionary movement against the military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan, which brought down that dictatorship in 1969. The military dictatorship of General Zia took steps to dismantle and break the power of students. He banned student unions in 1984, especially targeting progressive-leftist student organisations. It was the Zia regime that introduced the culture of gun violence on campuses.

The writer is a freelance journalist.