Restoring Student Unions Is Important, But The Process Has To Be A Regulated One

IJT campaigning for the 1979 student union elections.

Some leading dailies of the country recently reported that the incumbent government is seriously contemplating the restoration of the student unions in educational institutions across the country. Student unions were banned about three-and-a-half decades ago. The reason for doing so was obviously the highly undesirable role that the student unions started playing; serving their prescribed mandate trivially and playing more in the hands of their mentors (political parties and other vested interests) in the country. The fact of the matter is that dancing to the tunes of their political masters and serving their interests conscientiously, the student unions mostly undertook activities which were profoundly detrimental to the interest of the educational institutions in which they were functioning. The most unfortunate part is that the students’ community who voted them to the citadel of power, to serve their interest, barely benefited from their existence.

By disregarding their prescribed mandate palpably, the student unions of yesteryears had become a source of despicable anarchy and vandalism – particularly in the educational institutions in which they were functioning and the country in general. The regrettable part of this extremely sad and repugnant situation was the role brazenly played by the political parties of this country. To attain their political objectives, they surpassed all norms of respectability and inconsiderately manipulated the youth of Pakistan.

Having articulated my views on the abysmal role that the student unions have played in the past, I certainly wouldn’t like to give the impression that I am against the restoration of student unions in the country’s educational institutions. In a democratic setup, the significance of student unions cannot be overemphasized. Having said that, I consider it pertinent to quote 16th US President Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy “government of the people, by the people, for the people” and accentuate that a student union should likewise be defined as “union of the students, by the students, for the students”. Departure from this definition in any manner, I am afraid, will trounce the very essence of this vital student body. In view of the foregoing fact, it must be ensured at all cost that this important student organ must be bound by stringent laws to strictly confine itself to its mandate; serve the interest of the students’ community, and nothing else. Contravention of this defined mandate should render them illegal and, therefore, totally dysfunctional. The political forces in the country should, on their part, refrain from politicizing the student unions in the specific interest of the youth of this country, and in the larger interest of this nation.

In this context, one couldn’t agree more with the opinion of those in power in the country that before restoration of the student unions, a comprehensive and enforceable code of conduct is needed, learning from the best practices in internationally renowned universities across the globe. A code of conduct should be framed and put in place so as to enable the student unions to play their role effectively and positively grooming the youth as the future leaders of this country.

Some quarters reacting to the remarks of the Prime Minister of Pakistan calling the student unions “violent battlegrounds” profoundly criticized him. I would term their reaction to be bigoted, as the truth of the matter is that this exactly is what the student unions have mostly been doing in the past. The scenario vis-à-vis the past student unions depicted above lucidly portrays a similar demoralizing picture. May I reiterate, once again, that all the negative things that most of the student unions – baring a few exceptions – resorted to in the past was on the behest of the political forces with which they got themselves aligned.

In view of the foregoing facts, it must be clearly enshrined in the code of conduct the government is contemplating to frame, vis-à-vis governance of student unions, that any student union found to have political affiliation of any kind, whatsoever, with any political party or for that matter any other extraneous body, would be banned forthwith.

Pakistan is passing through a critical phase in its 73-year-old blemished political history. Character assassination and mud-slinging have become the order of the day. Our social and moral values stand seriously challenged today. Those who are supposed to be role models for the present and upcoming generations of this country are totally oblivious of this profoundly undesirable bearing; precluded under all norms of civilized conduct. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to say that this is causing serious harm to the social and moral conduct of the youth of this country, and colossally eroding their sense of respectability in almost all spheres of life.

We, as leaders of this country and mentors of the youth of Pakistan, must know that our doings, good or bad, have an impact, positive or negative, on the youth of this country in particular and the society in general. So, for heaven’s sake, let us have some compassion for the youth, the future leaders, of this country; guide them to the right path, and don’t let them go astray under any circumstances.


The writer is an analyst and freelance columnist based in Islamabad-Pakistan