Student activists were urged on Friday to adopt rationalisation of tuition fees as their agenda and mobilise their peers at higher education institutes.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan joint secretary Hussain Naqi said that the demand was important if education was to be made accessible for all.
He was speaking at a session on the history of progressive students’ resistance to various military regimes in the country.
The session was organised by the Democratic Students Alliance (DSA), a left-leaning students’ organisation.
Naqi, who had participated in the student movement against General Ayub’s government in the 1960s, recalled that the movement was a culmination of a decade-long struggle for expansion of education opportunities in the country. He said the number of universities in the country had been unable to meet the demand for higher education. Recalling his days at Karachi University, he said lack of space to accommodate all enrolled students resulted in a large number of students listening to the lectures while standing outside the classrooms. He said the university was then located in a building previously used by the Hindu College. He said there was just one medical college in Karachi at that time.
Tracing the history of progressive students’ activism, he said the Democratic Students Federation was the first progressive student organisation in the country. It had replaced the All India Students Federation, he said. Later, the DSF merged with the All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO) which was banned eventually. After the ban, it was reorganised as the National Students Federation.
Naqi said the NSF was banned in 1958. “It was a pluralistic organisation and included students from various nationalities in the country,” he said. He said unions should allow students leaning towards all ideological tendencies to participate in their affairs. “No one should be barred from contesting union elections. Once, I contested the presidential election for my university union against a Jamiat member,” he said.
Naqi said he had been sent to prison six times and arrested on numerous occasions during his time as a student leader. He said he had been held at Lahore Fort so often that the staff there had become familiar with him. “Once, an official asked me if I disagreed with everyone,” he said.
Other speakers at the event were Abida Chaudhry, a lawyer, and Anoushy Malik, an associate professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Chaudhry shared her experiences with the lawyers’ movement against General Musharaf’s government and the student movement during the Zia era.
She said Zia regime had banned unions. She said most student organisations agitating against Zia’s regime were affiliated with political parties.
Anushay Malik shared her experience with the Student Action Committee (SAC) formed as an umbrella association of students from various colleges in Lahore to coordinate efforts against the Musharaf regime. She said the members of the SAC were divided over the question of ending the ban on student unions. She said those who opposed unions would refer to them as instruments of political parties. However, she said, student activism was a political activity and it was inevitable for organisations to align themselves with political parties. She said such an association was fine as long as the control of the union remained with students.
Recalling her experience with the SAC, she said they were under pressure from parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf to merge with them. “We chose to stay independent,” she said. During her research on the SAC, she said came across several people who had left the committee because they thought they were being brain-washed by its dominant leftist ideology. She said a union should not be unnecessarily associated with an ideology.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2015.