Recent developments in the history of Gordon College, Rawalpindi, are, indeed, extremely ominous: not only for the students of the college but also for the populace of the Potohar region, as there are sinister endeavours to deprive them of their right to get admission to an institution known for academic excellence. Those who want to denationalise this college are not propelled by the philanthropist spirit of Christian missionaries (whose own endeavours were not free of selfish motives, as they helped the project of colonialism). Neither it is a question of providing justice to any Christian mission affected by the policy of nationalisation under which this college was nationalised in 1972.
In fact, it is about the significance of Gordon College for the people of Potohar, whose numerous generations benefited from this college.
In times gone by, there was a golden period in the history of this college, as it was cherished by the students from all social strata because at that time, education was not thought of as a commodity that can be exclusively sold to the ones having the means to afford it. There was exemplary dedication for which the likes of Dr. RR Stewart, Prof. Victor Mall and Prof. Khwaja Masood were known. Today, there is an attempt underway to inhibit the students from the middle and lower classes to fulfil their dreams through their experience of getting education by paying nominal dues. This capitalist greed is unacceptable!
The plans to denationalise Gordon College are, indeed, attempts to revive colonialism. Be it Gordon College, Edwardes College, Murray College, FC College or St. Stephen’s College; all of them were established with a colonial objective of enslaving the minds of the indigenous people through their exposure to a particular kind of modern education that strengthened the coloniser’s dominance over the colonised. They did it in Asia and Africa extensively. However, it is strange to see FC College being handed over to the American Mission of Presbyterian Church even after decolonisation. Was it in the interest of the public of Lahore? Not at all. However, after denationalisation of this institute, it inflicted a Tantalean punishment on the students of the middle class, as the capitalist administration increased the dues manifold, ensuring that they themselves get their kitties full by allowing only students having the means to afford education at FCCU.
This commodification of education is once again the chief priority of the same administration as they plan to run this college on the same pattern. This flurry of events is a micro-replay of the history of British colonialism in the Indian Subcontinent. There were inept rulers whose incompetence helped the coloniser to make inroads in the upper echelon of the society and, gradually they established their monopoly over the resources of the indigenous people. All the looting done thus became normalised owing to the power of the colonisers. The same role is being played by the ones who are facilitating this transition of Gordon College from a public sector college to a private institution to be run by the foreigners.
The ease with which FC College was handed over to the neo-colonisers and the arrangements are being made to lose another Koh-i-Noor of our educational system, Gordon College, are generally attributed to the puppets of the neo-imperialism in Latin American and African countries. This points to a major flaw in the notion of governance at provincial level. The chief ingredient of governance at any level should be a concern for public interest. All the three de jure organs of the state i.e. legislature, executive and judiciary must prioritize public interest over every other consideration. If they are unable to do so, they violate the very social contract on which the whole edifice of the state is built. In such a scenario, the fourth pillar of the state is supposed to point out the neglect of public interest by the short-sighted policy makers and criticise their propensity to snatch the rights of the public. It was in the current year that the incumbent CM of Punjab announced free education for the students. If that is the spirit, then why is this institute being denationalised to commodify education? Rather, they should re-nationalise FC College University for the benefit of the bright students from the lower stratum of the society.
Earning hefty profits in the name of education was never a concern of the pioneers of the institutions like Fort William College, National College of Arts, FC College and Gordon College. The fact that today FC College University is charging huge amounts from students is a testimony to the mindset of the present administration. They are least bothered by the inability of the students from poor backgrounds to get an opportunity to study at the institute where their previous generations studied without any financial pressure. Instead of supporting the position of the Mission running FCCU, the authorities must take bold decisions to open the doors of education at both of these institutions by foiling the nefarious attempts to denationalise Gordon College, and by re-nationalising FC College. These steps are pivotal if we are to envision a Pakistan in future having experts rising from the poor family backgrounds to the most prestigious positions. This is what Allama Iqbal dreamed of and our Quaid envisioned. Otherwise, the expansion of an elitist culture in education will only shrink the space for the brilliant students from the poor families. Such a scenario would be detrimental for the image of our beloved country.
Gordon College is a part of Rawalpindi’s modern history. It should be accessible to the students of the division without any inhibition, which is only possible if its status of a public sector college is retained. Sacrificing this pristine institute at the altar of the forces of capitalism and neo-colonialism is tantamount to the robbing the students of their dreams to walk through the corridors of the main block, to immerse themselves in the study of the books which are only available in the historic library of Gordon College and to attend events at the Jubilee Hall which witnessed the remarkable ambience of fierce competition in co-curricular activities between Barr and Minerva Clubs.
The concerned authorities must put an end to the avarice of capitalist mafia in the garb of a so-called mission which has only colonial connotations. Under no circumstances should the government discard colleges like Gordon College and FC College, as running these institutions as public sector colleges will forge a feeling of robust nationalism driven by public interest – which is what we need to become a great nation.