Revoking student unions ban

Prime Minister Imran Khan has hinted that the government is willing to revive student unions subject to an enforceable code of conduct. The is a welcome move and shows that the prime minister has responded to renewed activism in restoring the long-held ban on student unions.
The prime minister stated that student unions play an integral role in grooming future leaders in universities. Referring to how student union become ‘violent battlegrounds and completely destroyed the intellectual atmosphere on campuses’, the premier clarified that unions will be restored by enforcing best practices similarly to internationally-renowned universities.
The gradual trend approving the removal of the bans indicates that consensus can be reached on the issue. There needs to be more political willingness rather than mere statements leading to concrete action. Student unions are an integral part of a democratic society and they cannot be criminalised.
Sindh is set to become the first province to lift the ban on student unions. The provincial assembly had earlier passed a unanimous resolution, and now that chief minister has directed authorities to remove the ban on them. Students will be allowed to participate in politics and the Sindh government will soon make a law regarding student unions.
The Students Solidarity March was held on November 29 when scores of young people protested in towns and cities across the country with slogans of freedom. Their main demand was to revoke the ban on student unions still enforced since the era of military dictator General Zia. There was mixed reaction to the protests as it was organised by left-wing progressive organisations. A new debate has been ignited whether the ideological division on campus is still relevant.
Another controversy erupted when slogans were raised allegedly against state institutions leading to the arrest of several participants and organisers and registration of sedition cases against them. Among those booked include the elderly Iqbal Lala, the father of Mashal Khan who was lynched at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan over blasphemy allegations. A case was registered against a nephew of PTM leader Ali Wazir.
Several political parties have condemned the registration of sedition cases against the students. Former Chairman Senate and PPP leader Raza Rabbani has called for the charges to be withdrawn. Many see the restoration of student unions as a double-edged sword. Violence on campus cannot be condoned but this should not be used as an excuse to expunge democratic rights. It is time that promises are made providing a legitimate platform for student politics to the leaders of tomorrow.
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