Reviving student unions

December 11, 2019


ON Monday, Sindh took another decisive step towards restoring normality on its campuses. In a move to revive student unions that had been banned during the Zia era, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah’s cabinet has cleared the draft of the Sindh Students Union Act, 2019, for further input by stakeholders. The law, which came about as a consequence of a resolution in the Sindh Assembly in November, is extremely important not just for the province but for the whole country. The prolonged clamour for reviving unions has turned into a strong slogan in recent times. The pressure to deliver has been that much greater on political parties and politicians known for their vows and promises to live by the tenets of democracy. The PPP government in Sindh might realise now that true success and vindication in this case lies not just in the restoration of the unions but in a revival that leads to the establishment of empowered elected units on campuses that are capable of playing an effective role on behalf of the student community.

But even as it seeks to promote the active participation of students on the threshold of adulthood, the draft tries to curb some aspects of campus life. True, some caution is always advisable in all endeavours. But in this instance, the proposed restrictions go beyond what is reasonable, to a point where they threaten to defeat the very purpose of having a union. The desire expressed in the original draft to keep the students away from politics may have been dictated by bad experiences of the past, but it is akin to a suggestion which allows enthusiasts to have a Basant festival without kite-flying. The idea is to expose young, educated souls to all manner of opinion and thought to help them gain a mature perspective on how to go about living their lives. The Sindh Students Union Act, 2019, needs quite a lot of rethinking before it can pass the test.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2019