A GROUP of university students in Karachi and Hyderabad caught the media’s attention when they announced a 100-hour-long hunger strike outside the press clubs of both cities. The students are affiliated with a small group that calls itself the Sindh Students Council, comprising mostly university students. According to them, their hunger strike will end today ie March 4, a date they remember as relevant to the Sindh students’ struggle against the dictatorship of Ayub Khan. Their demands include the restoration of student unions, provision of adequate facilities such as hostels and eviction of the security forces from university campuses. Additionally, their demand for checking ‘fake’ students’ domiciles in Sindh may create the impression of nationalistic aspirations but the issue of falsified documentation has been of concern and must be addressed to ensure that the process of granting domiciles does not entail any kind of unscrupulous tactic.

Meanwhile, it is a pity that there seems to be no move to revive the defunct students’ unions. University campuses must be avenues for the intellectual and ideological grooming of young men and women to allow them to be part of a vibrant political discourse. These unions also play a key role in resolving day-to-day student issues and can guard students against the unsavoury influence of those holding obscurantist and narrow-minded beliefs. The platform of unions is also considered an equaliser of sorts, making it easier for students from modest backgrounds to enter politics in a country with dynastic traditions. Though several governments, including the present dispensation, have declared their intention to revoke the Zia-era ban on student unions, none have actually acted on their promise. In fact, not too long ago, the incumbent rulers displayed an authoritarian streak by registering cases against student activists, not unlike the 1960s when Ayub Khan’s government unleashed the state’s force on protesting students. The authorities, instead of suppressing the voices of young people, should listen to them. Dissent only grows when voices are silenced.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2021

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