Editorial | The Inaccurate Interpretation Of IIUI Tragedy
The violence at the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) is appalling and the death of young Syed Tufail in the course of this violence is heartbreaking. The multiple casualties took place at the scene of an event organized by the Islami Jamiat e Talaba (IJT) and police say that the firing was the result of a brawl that had taken place outside the event between rival student groups.
Such bloodshed, while always tragic, comes at a particularly sensitive time. There has been much public debate about the restoration of student unions – a demand that has been resolutely pushed by a number of student organizations, led by those of a progressive or leftist mindset.
There are now those who argue that the violence at the IIUI is an example of why the status quo should remain in place rather than allowing student unions to function on campuses. This interpretation of recent events may be both hasty and inaccurate.
One of the points which has not been emphasized enough in the public debate is a proper clarification on the distinction between student unions and student organizations. The former is a form of administrative participation by elected representatives of students. And that is what the student movement has been demanding. The latter, i.e. student organizations, are functioning even now. In fact, the rival groups that clashed in Islamabad are examples of student organizations – albeit not behaving in an exemplary way, of course.
There is another crucial point – which the student movement has raised but it has not received the serious consideration that it deserves. The roots of violence between rival student organizations. In student politics, much like other forms of politics in Pakistan, violence has a lot to do with dictatorship and curbs on legitimate political activity. When legitimate student participation in shaping the campus environment is restricted, such involvement continues, but through illegal and violent means. Restoring elections to student unions in a properly regulated process may help to reduce the underlying causes of violence on campuses.
A third point to consider is that it is not just student groups that engage in violent politics from time to time. Even electoral politics in Pakistan’s chequered democratic history has been associated with armed clashes between rival groups. Every reasonable voice has supported administrative measures to prevent such violence. No well-meaning voice has argued that elections not be held at all in the country due to the existence of violence. That is to say, except pro-dictatorship voices.
Above all, it must be remembered that the argument for restoring student unions and legitimate student politics is not based on the idea that students are angelic, perfect beings. They are young adults, susceptible to all the negative traits that afflict humanity in general and Pakistani society in particular.
The demand from the student movement has been for the authorities to recognize that students are adults – who have a right to participate in administrative decisions that concern their life. As such, their political demands should be weighed in the same way as the political demands of other adults are considered.