Situated at the heart of one of Karachi’s busiest areas, Saddar, the college was set up in 1952 by the management of Saint Patrick’s School.
The college, offering degrees in the sciences and business, rose to become one of the finest in Karachi.
Like many other colleges and universities in Pakistan, St. Pat’s college too was nationalised by the populist PPP regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972.
But in spite of the fact that the teaching standards of many nationalised educational institutions eventually began to suffer from nationalisation, St. Pat’s (along with a few other colleges in Karachi), somehow managed to retain its standards.
Though politicised student unions were already present in both state-owned as well in some privately-owned colleges, in St. Pats they emerged in the early 1970s.
It was also during this period that the students at St. Pat’s began to elect representatives to their union from varied student political parties that began to emerge at the college from 1972 onwards.
Between 1973 and the year that I joined the college as a First Year student of Commerce & Business Administration in 1983, the college’s union was dominated by an alliance of three progressive student parties: the National Students Federation (NSF), Peoples Students Federation (PSF) and the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO).
When I arrived here the college was ringing with the aftermath of the last countrywide student union elections in Pakistan (1983).
Though student union elections involving student outfits affiliated with political parties had been a norm in various colleges and universities since the 1950s, the process was given a legislative sheen during the populist Z A. Bhutto regime through the ‘Student Union Ordinance’ (1974).
That’s why when the Ziaul Haq dictatorship banned student unions and parties in 1984, this did not really mean that student parties stopped operating on campuses or student union elections came to a halt.
What the ban meant was that the dictatorship scrapped the 1974 Ordinance and thus rendered student union elections as unofficial, localised events not recognised or funded anymore by the government.
For example, before the Ordinance, the dates and dynamics of student union elections were decided by the administrations of the colleges and the universities. After the Ordinance these were decided by the government.
The Ordinance decreed that the annual event of student union elections be held on a single date/month of each year across all state-owned universities and colleges.
So when Zia scraped the Ordinance in 1984, the elections once again became the sole prerogative of college and university administrations.
The reason that fewer student union elections were held after 1984 was not as much due to Zia’s ban. It had more to do with the incidents of violence on campuses that had grown two-fold after Zia’s military coup in July 1977 and his regime’s crackdown on anti-Zia student groups.
When I joined St. Pat’s College in 1983 at the age of 17, the last student union elections held according to the Ordinance had just taken place across Pakistan.
Incidentally, these were also the elections in which the student-wing of the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami (JI), the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), suffered huge defeats in a majority of universities and colleges, mainly at the hands of progressive student alliances.
Since the IJT’s attempts to find a foothold in St. Pat’s had continuously been frustrated by the NSF/PSF/BSO alliance here, the IJT had once again been routed at the college in 1983.
Interestingly, one of the first friends that I made at the college was an IJT activist, Tahir Yusuf.
He had lost the1983 election for one of the many union posts up for grabs, even though he was the only IJT man whose defeat had been the closest, losing by a mere 4 votes.
Tahir was a tall, well-built 18-year-old, who was a year senior to me (Intermediate, Commerce) at the college. He approached me on the morning of my first day in college, as I sat on a bench underneath the huge, shady trees that covered the college’s entrance.
Tahir had done his matriculation from a state-owned school and belonged to a middle-class, Urdu-speaking family residing in Karachi’s Nazimabad area.
He wanted me to join IJT, even after I told him that my father had been a member of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
‘So will you do what your father did?’ He asked. ‘What about your own thinking?’
‘But I’m not a very good Muslim,’ I responded, with a polite and diplomatic smile. ‘I’ll be a disgrace to the IJT.’