As Pakistan prepares for a worsening wave of inflation, and the whole mainstream media sets its eyes upon Imran Khan as he sets out to appear in the court, something sinister is taking place within the boundaries of Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad. What started as a conflict between the Baloch and Pashtun student councils soon escalated into something much bigger. Rangers were deployed into the campus, invoking a totalitarian imagery. Apparently, these Rangers were deployed to keep ‘law and order’ which would be ensured through the process of identification to keep troublemaking outsiders away from the campus. These steps were taken for the sake of security “till return to normalcy” as claimed the university administration.
But what happened on the 28th of February shattered the authenticity of any such claim. Students who were asked to evacuate the hostels, did not do so, for reasons of residence. Students who have nestled in the hostels often come from faraway places, and it is their right to have a place to stay.
The university administration did not take this disobedience lightly. On the night of the 28th of February, police broke into the hostels, charging students with batons and packing them into vans and buses, in scenes reminiscent of war. This forcible, authoritarian evacuation of the students deserves the attention of us all.
For not only must this barbarity be condemned, but it also shifts our attention to much greater issues. Issues of student rights; of human rights, issues of education, of safety, of democracy and the future of Pakistan itself. These scenes of brutality are not spontaneous events, arising out of nowhere. They are painted on the backdrop of a history of repression. It is one of many events where the lives and the rights of students have been abused. One can look at the actions of CDA trying to cut through the QAU just last year, for the purpose of building a road. Or consider PIMS Nursing School freezing stipends of students.
All of these point towards one thing; a faulty state apparatus, one which fails to fulfill the very reason of its existence; the protection of its citizens.
Though this has perhaps been a curse for Pakistan since the days of its inception, it was Zia’s banning of student politics, and thus, the further depoliticisation of the masses for years to come, which led to the death of any sense of freedom. Any and every voice of necessary dissent against this repressive state apparatus is silenced before it reaches anywhere. Thus, this moment of great horror must for us all be a moment of showing solidarity towards those who are facing such repression. But it also must be a moment of great reflection.
Where is a country headed, whose student body is subjected to such subjugation, by the state and the very institutions whom they pay for their education? Are not educational institutions places of learning and tolerance? Are not the students the greatest assets of creative, intellectual and productive forces for any nation? Thus, we must remember, as Pakistanis and above all as human beings – and before it’s too late (unless it already is) – that such repression will not lead to the preservation of anything. It will lead only to the destruction of everything. We must stand with all those who are left alone by the very institutions that were supposed to protect them. And we must let freedom of thought, culture and action flourish, so that a more equal Pakistan may be born.