Across the globe, freedom of association is the basis of all intellectual and ideological freedom. Common agendas or ideas related to either social or political problems form the bases of such associations. These movements are instrumental as they bear the potential to bring about significant change to society and the ideologies of nations. Hence, it should come as no surprise that such bodies play an integral role in the growth and development of the character of our younger generation. This is just one reason why they are incredibly important to the academic experience.
So, how did Pakistan approach this undisputedly fundamental aspect of student life?
The Supreme Court of Pakistan imposed a ban on the assembly of student unions on February 9, 1993, and took away the right to assemble from the student body of Pakistan. One cannot rightfully determine the outrage with which this decision was met, but can safely gauge that a decision like this would not sit well with the youth of today (read: the revision of CIE’s standardized grading process, circa August 2020).
For the past 27 years, the students have not had a platform to voice their issues or a medium through which they can highlight the problems they face. The 1993 Verdict banned the unions because they were an alleged threat to law and order, and they were supposedly also violent and prejudicial to the sovereignty of Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, this led to the death of the conception of accountable governance within the minds of our youth. The non-existence of this coaching has left a political vacuum of kinds. The unions are accustomed to coaching grounds for students to become politically mature, active, and accountable members of society. However, the younger generations deny the claim by the Supreme Court and demand the right to form student unions, since they are flag bearers of democracy and the very future of Pakistan.
Has the government changed its stance since the now-controversial move it made in the 1990s?
The Progressive Student’s Collective is one of the organizations that speak up for the rights of students. It has been a strong advocate against fee hikes, harassment, substandard policing, and budget allocation for the education sector.
Regarding the ban on student unions, in 2017, students and legislators made an attempt for their revival. The Senate of Pakistan unanimously passed a bill supporting the reinstatement of Student Unions by claiming, “Student unions are building grounds for students to nurture themselves and actively become part of the social, cultural and political process of their country.” However, the bill never got to the parliament. It was merely a showpiece, and the students remained deprived of their rights, again.
How has the collective student body reacted to this attempt of the government to stifle it, that now spans over multiple decades?
However, the students have found refuge in various national organizations based on religious, ethnic, and geographic similarities. These organizations work for a unified plan and a singular idea that benefits the organizations individually and not the whole student community. These organizations have contributed more or less to the amelioration of the student body of Pakistan. Yet the need for student union remains unfulfilled. The Pakistani government must cater to it, keeping all circumstances into consideration.