In a landmark move, after nearly four decades the Sindh Assembly became the first province to revive student unions across universities. On Friday, the provincial assembly showed rare consensus and unanimously passed the Sindh Student Union Bill. The move comes just two days after students took out demonstrations to voice their demands on the day (February 9) observed to call for the restoration of student unions. It was in 1984 when the then military ruler General Ziaul Haq had imposed a ban on student unions. Since then, successive governments, including the ruling party, had during their election campaigns pledged to revive student unions to promote an environment for social interaction and exchange of ideas on campuses. But it took 38 years for a provincial assembly to fulfil this promise and pass the bill with a satisfactorily placed restriction on violence and gun culture in educational institutions.
The development nonetheless provides hope for the country’s fading democratic culture and can prove to be an impetus to ensure that the youth of Pakistan play an active role in its politics. After all, many of those who sit in power corridors today began their political careers on campuses. Student unions have in the past proved to give way to intellectual activities in institutions by ensuring student’s participation in the state of governance in educational institutions, which have only trickled down to their active discourse in country’s democracy at large. It is pertinent to note that the MQM-P which came into being in March 1984 had evolved into a proper political organization after the All Pakistan Muhajir Student Organization was founded in June 1978 by its founder. Similarly, other seasonal politicians had also once been part of student unions, which helped pave their way to assemblies today.
Students today face compounding challenges from fee hikes, harassment on campus and shrinking space of freedom of expression on campuses, among other things. The revival of unions will then only help them tackle these issues effectively. In fact, a clause of the bill also states that the ‘educational institution shall have at least one nominee of the elected union in its syndicate and senate board with a committee for protection against harassment.’ This only reinstates the importance of students’ participation at the decision-making level of academic institutions. Other provinces should also follow suit and work towards reviving student unions. Our youth and the country can gravely benefit from it.