Student Unions Apolitical or Depoliticized? By Shagufta Gul

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Pakistan is currently having atwo-third of its population under the age of 25 and is one of the most populous countries of the world. Sucha huge chunk of the population can have transformative as well as disastrous impacts if the policymaking isn’t aimed at channelizing this huge resource accordingly. A young population with ample opportunities and provision of fundamental human rights can do miracles and the same population if deprived off their constitutional rights can lead to turmoil and chaos. The political participation of youth can be as influential as it was witnessed in Pakistan s 2013 and 2018 general elections, however, we still have to go miles and miles to make youth understand the importance of their participation that is beyond casting their vote as effective civic engagement is the second most important element to strengthen a democracy. Thousands of Pakistani students demonstrated for the restoration of student unions on November 29th 2019 and demanded the ban be lifted from student unions.Pakistan s political history in both preand post-independence eras have witnessed political participation of youth in multiple movements.

Under article 17 of 1973, constitution and article 20 of UDHR the freedom of association for the citizens of a state is a legitimate right of all Pakistani Citizens. However, the student community of Pakistan is deprived of its constitutional right for the last three decades. It occurred firstly in 1958 and 1984 under the dictatorial eras of those regimes, PPP government lifted the ban in its tenure 1989, however, the ban was imposed again in 1993 by Supreme Court on the notion that student unions contribute to violencein campuses without any research-based evidence. The SC also ruled that the ban should be subject to a periodic review; however, it never happened. The apparent ban couldn’t stop the consistent involvement of political parties too which have been using young minds as tools to accomplish their political ambitions in the campuses

Looking at different aspects and dimensions of education and the importance of co-curricular activities we have to understand that education at any level is incomplete and insufficient if it doesn’t lead to a change in individuals attitude and refining his /her hidden talents namely the soft skills and that is possible if the co-curricular activities aregiven equalimportance alongwith academic excellence. Educational institutions at any level are not just meant to deliver and complete courses and curricula but they need to be a complete package for producing effective and responsible citizens equipped with the leadership, critical thinking analytical thinking decision making social responsibility and civic engagement.

Human rights education should be promoted if the student unions are functional as per the constitution of the institution and ConstitutionIt provides an opportunity for cross-cultural interactions, diverse religions and cultures ultimately leading to a vision promote a culture of tolerance, dialogue and understanding

The existence of student unions in the most developed democracies like the UK and USA is self-explanatory as the leadership skills and understanding of hierarchies’ roles and responsibilities are nurtured at the grass-root level. These unions deal with the concerns of the students in an organized manner and provide an opportunity for negotiation and dialogue for the solution of student-related problems. Unfortunately, we don’t have pleasant memories as far as our history of student unions is concerned and instead of being politically educating the young minds they have been dragged into violence threatening at the campuses and that too with the involvement of major political parties in Pakistan. The ban itself had added up to the suffocation and oppression apparently as the youth wings did exist informally continuing with their activities. We still believe that student Unions should be restored but with some lessons.

The youth desperately needs to be provided with this right because provide students with opportunities of representation internally and externally on behalf of the institutions with an opportunity to get politically trained especially if a democratic form of government is the priority of a state It refines the critical and analytical thinking skills as mostly the student unions talk about the specific issues and concerns of the students and they voice the concerns of the majority The membership of a student union in any capacity enhances confidence, communication and freedom of expression with responsibility.

Human rights education should be promoted if the student unions are functional as per the constitution of the institution and ConstitutionIt provides an opportunity for cross-cultural interactions, diverse religions and cultures ultimately leading to a vision promote a culture of tolerance, dialogue and understanding.We have highlighted an ideal situation however that is possible if the monitoring is effective.

The absence of student unions leads not only to the lack of political activities but also minimizes the social interactions among youth and as it happened in our case in the absence of constructive activities at the campuses the youth got attracted to the religious extremist groups promoting sectarianism and radicalization. The last two decades are a witness to this growing trend.It has badly affected the personal growth, and development of life skills making the students just grade and class centric with the only objective of GPA, no matter how it is obtained as co-curricular stuff is taken as a waste of time Plato said that those who refuse to take part in politics are meant to be ruled by inferiors.

Similarly, the leadership that has been ruling is not the product of a gradual political process.In our educational system at the school level, the associations club and societies do exist but at the higher levels of education, their existence and presence are less visible. think it must continue at higher levels of education too, rather should be made compulsory for the students at universities to be a part of society whatever it may be (GIKI is practising it and the academic excellence with co-curricular participation goes hand in hand )Through legislation these societies, unions must remain apolitical, however, certain criteria can be set, for example, level of education or completion of degree along with an aptitude for political participation. The key role to be played by the political parties in this regard.

The parties need to be bound with their access and approach in campuses. Secondly, effective and concrete disciplinary actions can be introduced against the parties and particularly individuals if found involved in political activities .( the academic tenure of the student needs to be focused productively and just based on skill development ) You can’t expect successful democratic system unless Democracy is understood with its core values from grass root level and in the absence of these setups we can see the attitudes and behaviours of our youth, tending to be intolerant, unable to accept the difference of opinion. Let’s look at education with a holistic approach .a blend of academics and co curricular activities for a unified vision and effective civic engagement under a progressive and sustainable democracy.

The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector