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November 30, 2019

Living to learn and learning to live


November 30, 2019

A fresh wave of student activism has been sweeping through the country. Its goals are very high and its definition subject to different interpretations. But the student processions that hit the roads of Islamabad are generated by totally different reasons. Simply put, these protesters live in private hostels which stand in violation of law due to their location. Since, business activity is prohibited in residential areas, the law came into action and they were to be evicted from these hostels in one way or the other. To protest this eviction, they are now on the roads demanding that their rights be protected.

But the issue is not as simple as this. Consider: Universities are meant to educate and facilitate creation of knowledge. Islamabad has the distinction of housing the country’s top-notched universities; hence, becoming a magnate for students from across the country. Though the city managers have allocated enough land to public sectors universities to build hostels properly, they are unable to cope with growing number of students. As a result, the students have to settle for problematic lodging in private hostels where they pay exorbitantly for meagre services and highly contested space to live. The owners exploit them in every possible way. They charge from them advance rent and utility bills and in return they offer them an uncertain lodging and substandard services. However, the students have learnt to live through all this as life in Islamabad is like this they like it or not.

The city is not friendly to middle or lower middle class people. This is a city of bureaucrats and politicians. Therefore, these students are caught at a wrong place. They cannot be allowed to lodge in residential areas both for commercial and law and order reasons. And they cannot afford costlier lodging in commercial areas.

“Whose fault is it?” I asked Prof Dr Tahir Malik. Mr Malik is my teacher and the student activist in him keeps on growing younger as he accumulates more grey hair and more pounds in weight.

“Basically, the responsibility lies with higher education authorities. Why do they allow universities to ignore the basic issue of lodging students,” he asked.

“There have to be sub-private ventures to accommodate as much students as can be in university hostels,” he said.

“Have not our universities become business avenues? Education has been commoditised. The middle class wants to buy it at any cost. Universities cash in on this urge and do thriving business by increasing fees. These business ventures are allowed to operate in residential areas,” the bold professor said.

He said that these universities even do not leave space for parking and vehicles of their staff and visitors are a problem for residents of Islamabad as they hog roads and destroy green belts.

We in this space do not ask the city administrators to let private hostels operate in residential areas. But then we also cannot accept young students to go shelter-less and cry themselves hoarse on roads to seek reasonable lodging in Islamabad. We believe that the city managers will sit with university bosses to work out a way for these students to live here in such a way that their learning is not hampered.

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