February 17th, 2022
On February 11th the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed the Students Union Bill 2019, principally reviving students’ unions in the Province after an almost 40-year long ban dating back to the Zia-ul-Haq regime.
Per the new bill students’ representatives will now become members of their campus’s Senate and Syndicate. These representatives, in turn, will be elected directly by the student body every year. Though the bill bans strikes by students under a clause banning ‘prejudicial activity’ it is still being heralded as a game-changer by a vast majority of the students’ bodies.
“The revival of these unions will benefit female students the most. Female students will now have an independent platform to raise their concerns like harassment on campus and other sensitive issues we cannot raise through our parents,” states Wajiha Abid, a student of Karachi University (KU).
“I think students’ unions will help make the students’ body more aware of their rights on campus. And we will be able to better tackle the problems we face on campus, problems like favoritism, which are rampant in our campuses,” says Amna Hussain, another KU student, while speaking to VoicePk.net.
Members of various students organizations and members of students’ wings of different mainstream political parties have wholeheartedly welcomed the move to finally grant students’ the right to unionize.
“I think it is an extremely positive step. Now it is our (the students’) responsibility to refrain from violent activities which led to the banning of students’ unions in the first place,” says Jahanzeb, a member of the All Pakistan Mohajir Students’ Organization (APMSO).
“I think this is a very positive move by the government and will open up new opportunities for students activists to engage in social work for the betterment of the student’s body,” says Zafar Iqbal, member of the Imamia Students Organization (ISO).
“We the students of this country have been voiceless for almost four decades. These unions were banned by the dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Now the government has returned our voice to us and we are overly joyed. This is why we have organized a function in KU to celebrate,” says Nafeez Khattak of the People’s Students Federation (PSF).
But not all stakeholders share Nafeez’s joy. “The bill uses vague language to limit the freedoms enjoyed by students. It takes away from us the right to peacefully strike for our rights which I think is condemnable,” says Ahmad, a member of the Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT).
Much like Ahmad Dr. Syed Asim Ali, Student Advisor of KU has deep reservations about the new law even though they are fundamentally opposite. “The government invited VCs of all of Sindh’s Universities to consult on the bill but while drafting the bill not a single suggestion put forth by these VCs was taken into account. I do not have any expectations from this bill, only reservations. Any law passed without taking into account the concerns of stakeholders naturally gives birth to fears,” he told VoicePK.net.
But despite this criticism, the Sindh government has firmly stood by what it terms as a “revolutionary initiative”. “Universities are home to citizens from all segments of society and these students’ unions will become nurseries for the future political leadership of this country,” explains Ismail Rahu, provincial minister for boards and universities.