close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
April 23, 2021

Another generation on mute

Islamabad

April 23, 2021

On March 6, the Islamia University in Bahawalpur expelled 8 students for organising a peaceful protest, a right afforded to them under Article 16 of the Constitution. Since 1984, when General Zia-ul-Haq banned student unions, with the exception of brief stints of freedom under Benazir Bhutto’s tenure, Pakistan’s university students have largely remained a muffled, if not entirely silenced, constituency.

The State’s menu of heavy-handedness is not limited to banning unions. In January, 5 students of the Progressive Students Collective, were arrested without warrants for demanding online exams during the pandemic. Medical students belonging to the Tribal Areas and Balochistan are on hunger strike, after the Pakistan Medical Commission slashed the number of reserved seats for students from these areas overnight from 265 to 29. This is the state of our union.

Do our students not deserve a platform through which they can raise their collective voice? Must they starve themselves and be hospitalised in order to be heard?

In any progressive nation, student voices - unburdened by the need for compromise or expediency - act as its moral compass. In Pakistan, we love to speak of the endless potential of our youth, but seemingly specialise in neutering that potential. At birth, a Pakistani child has a 50% chance of growing up stunted because of malnutrition. The fortunate minority that does end up beating these odds to make it to our universities is then subjected to an intellectual stunting, deprived of any opportunity for debate, and God forbid, for self-reflection or criticism. Only last month, Pakistan’s most prestigious University, LUMS, was forced to cancel a conference on the 50th anniversary of the creation of Bangladesh, under severe pressure from certain quarters. As Khalil Jibran said, “pity the nation that raises not its voice.”

If not out of empathy, then out of self-interest, one would have expected the PTI-led government to encourage student participation as a means of courting the youth vote. After all, Prime Minister Imran Khan often claims them to be his key demographic.

In a country whose youth comprises 63% of its entire population, this is not a minority constituency, nor is the issue of student unions unimportant to them. In a recent online poll, 83% of participants considered student unions to be integral to the political maturity of our youth.

For the nation to progress, the state must stop painting dissent as treason and recognize it as the foundation of a democratic system. We are a young nation, and can only benefit from a process of self-reflection. The need for such a process was best articulated by Syed Babar Ali, the founder of LUMS, at a Facebook Live panel session last year. When asked what his one wish for Pakistan would be, after a considered pause, Mr. Ali replied: “I wish for Pakistan to be at peace with itself.” That one sentence sums up virtually all of Pakistan’s existential challenges, and our ability to respond to it with honesty will determine whether we will continue to be stuck in reverse, or whether we can finally begin to move forward.

We often accuse our political leadership of being pygmies, yet deny our youth any opportunity to engage in the very process through which future leaders can emerge. By barring successive generations from involvement in the political process, we will make the disconnect between the citizenry and the state an irreversible one. For any nation state, nothing could be more dangerous.