Why STUDENT UNIONS Save Our Campuses From the Security State and Student Violence

by Abid Ali

Nothing is allowed to escape the machinery of the modern nation-state in today’s world. The logic of the modern nation-state aims to control and manage every single corner and institution of the country by consent or by force. From violent activities in the street to fights amongst students at colleges and universities, the State believes that authoritarian and bureaucratic mechanisms are the only way to manage violence. Following the ban on student unions during Zia’s era, Educational institutions facing violence between student political organizations responded with massive securitization and bureaucratization with the help of the state, but ignored non-security avenues to counter the violence such as Student unions or other Studentrepresentative institutions. My argument is that the violence in educational institutions is caused by the absence of Student unions inside the campuses, so while the best counter-measure was unban student unions the state opted for securitization and bureaucratization which resulted in even more violence and aggression in student community. Secondly, I argue, that the securitization of institutions did not only aim to counter violence on campus but to control and discipline the students and to form a docile and apolitical student body.

The Security concept is not new; it has persisted in different forms in every century. During the age of kings and monarchs a strong army was employed to control subjects, a brutal prisonsystem was also one of tools used to terrorize and discipline subjects. But with the inception of modern institutions like bureaucracy, education etc the concept of hard security changed into one of soft security.

In Michel Foucault’s sense people are now being control by two means, consent (Education and Media etc.) and repressive measures (the army, the police etc.) . We have experienced the British Security system in British India where the British Raj controlled anddisciplined its subjects in South Asia through two strong institutions, the military and the bureaucracy. These institutions were to be known as the Steel framework of British Empire. Unfortunately we inherited weak civilian institutions like the parliament and the judiciary but strong Security and Disciplining Institutions like the army and the bureaucracy. The result is as Hamza Alivi argued was a more authoritarian and overdeveloped state where the state was overdeveloped and civilians were underdeveloped.

This authoritarian nature of the state has not changed in 70 years, and the controlled democratic Governments have become used to surrendering their authority to them.

Having this kind of authoritarian state for the 70 years, it has become common sense that every response to any issue or incident is authoritarian and security centered. 

Understanding this history is necessary to understand the main point, that the securitization and authoritarian control over educational institutions was implemented to control the only nursery of progressive and enlightened people. This tendency towards securitization and authoritarian education has been present since independence but General Zia ul Haq’s intensified this process. He banned students unions throughout the country while allowing violent political organizationsto control campuses in order to exclude the progressive element from the educational institutions. Alongside this university administrations were handed to bureaucrats and retired army officers who were given direct control over appointments of teaching faculty, the activities of teachers and students and other decision making matters. The securitization of education was set in motion by Zia and its legacy can be felt even today.

Skirmishes between bodies of students arealways resolved through more authoritarian and securitized measures. The state is fighting the symptoms not the disease.

This disease is why students are fighting in educational institutions, why students are committing suicide, why dead bodies of students are found inside campuses with so-called strong security apparatuses and this is why students opt for violence rather than resolving issues reasoned discussion. The answer is not simple and we have to question the quality of education and the quality of the text books being taught in the country’s educational institutions.

MashalKhan’s case makes my point; this is a case where otherwise educated people killed a young progressive peer on false charges of blasphemy. By ‘educated’, here I refer to the fact that these students passed through our educational institutions and learned hatred and violence in the text books prescribed by our institutions.

Mashal khan raised certain questions aboutthe administration of the university but what is truly alarming about this situation was that his fellow students responded by killing him, for a cause that had nothing to do with them. The culprit here, the disease, is a curriculum which is based on hatred and violence and is behind the murder of a young progressive student.

The restoration of students unions is a remedy for this disease. If an elected students body was present in Abdul Wali khan University, there could have been no lynching of Mashal khan at hands of other students. The hatred and violence dictated by state through text books needs to be challenged and it is possible only in the case of a restoration of students unions, which would engender unity among students across the country. This would provide a forum where students would engage in the debate over various issues and would resolve their problems through debate and discussion rather than violence. I am not saying that a world with students unions is going to be completely free from any form of violence whatsoever but we would be in a far better position than the one we are in today, where students murdered Mashal khan and then celebrated that murder.

Students unions create a democratic environment in campuses engendering a belief in democracy as the only legitimate way to contest one’s views with the views of others and to encourage engagement through democratic rather than violent means. They would learn to exercise power through elections and slowly and gradually develop a democratic environment where no one would impose one set of ideas over another, rather we would engage one another in free and open discussion.

Taken from the Student Solidarity March where students came out demanding their right to form Student Unions

The writer is member of PRSF and an Mphil scholar at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies, QAU Islamabad. He can be reached at abidalimn121@gmail.com

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