The Need For Student Unions

“Police baton charge the students” reads another headline forwarded by a friend. The news piece remarks nonchalantly, “Student unions breed nothing but violence.”

I strongly disagree. Remember Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo’s words? “They banned student unions on the pretext of violence but violence took birth and permeated after banning of the unions.” Need more be said?

It’s exactly what is happening in the country right now. Without a proper platform to raise their issues, students are forced to call for their demands through protests and sit-ins. These tactics occasionally result in a few of their demands being met. Most times, however, it turns into a violent episode. The recent baton charge by Punjab police on UMT students wasn’t yet out of the news when yesterday’s news of the clash between the students and administration of the University of Central Punjab started doing the rounds. A similar situation is unfolding outside NFC Faisalabad and many other renowned institutions in the country.

Had students access to proper forums such as student unions, they would never be out on the streets and would be channeling their energies to more productive activities. However, as things stand, they are struggling even to be heard and seen, forced to voice their concerns over social media and through protests. This is in spite of the Constitutional guarantee given to every citizen to be free to form associations or unions, as stated under Article 17 of the Constitution.

Student unions are an important need of the hour as they play an eminent role in addressing multifaceted issues of students, especially problems such as fee hikes, examinations, administrative problems as well as, in the current pandemic, new problems like distant learning and online assessments. They are needed to help build a safe, diverse and inclusive environment by making policies to counter harassment and mobility in campuses and ensure a fair quota of seats for all provinces. It also needs to be realised that student unions are not only beneficial for the rights of students but also important for the development and growth of educational institutions. Those who talk about violence on campus should remember that student unions are pivotal to countering the grip of certain other violent student organisations, which have not been deterred by a ban, over educational institutes. Permission to form student unions will help counter, not add to violence, as it will then provide a platform to win the support and confidence of the majority of students, whose grievances the representative body will be well-informed about.

It is aptly said that educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all and unions ensure the education of the heart by involving youth in relief efforts, such as the development of welfare departments, disaster management cells, blood donation groups, and so on, which are all extremely resourceful for the society at large.

Student unions have been effectively banned in Pakistan for over 35 years. If the ban really was in the students' favour, why do student problems continue to abound, and why do students feel so unheard? It is clear that the ban has not produced the quality of education or the peace which it was hoped it would bring. The current state of affairs shows that students’ politics is resurfacing in the country, perhaps much more strongly than before. It is time that we pay heed to what the students have to say. After all, the youth comprise 64 percent of Pakistan’s population.