Till now, you all must have seen that disturbing video making rounds on social media, in which a girl is being beaten and abused by three of her classmates, all of them belonging to a posh, elite-class school Scarsdale International School (SIS). The more shocking thing apart from those three girls bullying one of their class fellows was that this was not an ordinary middle-class school or some public sector University where the clashes between two Students’ Unions are not news, nor it was some Madrassah, where such incidents have become quite a norm, sadly. But what was more surprising was the background story and the incident that took place afterwards. Afterall, it was the issue of a “class” and the “influential and untouchable elite” of our country.
Violence and disruption in Campuses is hardly a new thing in Campuses all across the country, from Karachi University (KU) to Punjab University (PU) Lahore. Every other day we hear the news of a new clash, either between two Political groups or between two ethnic groups and sometimes the violence has some religiously motivated reasons too. Many political commentators and journalists have been trying to insinuate that Students Unions were the sole reason behind the violence that we have been witnessing in Campuses for all these years but that’s not the full picture that can explain the never-ending phenomenon of violence in campuses. If we look at the data and figures, it becomes evident that after the Government banned the Student Unions back in 1980’s, the clashes and violence only increased as the political platforms to resolve conflicts were no longer available, hence there was no other option left for Students but to resort to violence. Academics and politicians who present the case for the restoration of Students Unions argue that Unions were banned by a military dictator of that time and the sole purpose of banning that platform was to put an end to the political mobilization in campuses and discard the democratic practices and this ban eventually ended up de-politicizing the youth of the country up to the extent that the term “politics” became a form of abuse. But as stated earlier, putting an end to political activism on campus did not really put an end to violence and disruption as was proposed by the military regime of that time. And I would argue that this was the plan all along, the anti-democratic forces of the country had no problem with violence or disruption, their aim to ban Students Unions was only to prolong their illegitimate rule on one hand and to discourage people from joining Politics (especially the country’s vibrant middle class) on the other. All across the Globe, Students Unions are considered to be the nursery of Politicians as they provide Political Leadership to their countries, so when this institution got banned, it put a serious dent not only on the welfare and well-being of Students but also put the country’s democratic future at stake.
But the question that one might ask, what exactly is the link between the culture of Violence in Public Universities and the bullying we witness in private schools? (What happened at Scarsdale International School was just a tip of the iceberg, it was only able to get our attention because the video went viral on social media). The answer to that question lies in the argument of famous Philosopher, Michael Foucault, as per him there is nothing in this world, that is “apolitical”. If we try to unpack this, we can see that anyone who invokes this term “apolitical” is often coming from a state of privilege that allows him the luxury of being indifferent towards the injustice and oppression that’s happening around him. Like for example, the father of the girl who got beaten by her classmates has no option to be apolitical anymore, he has to fight the case of his daughter in the court of law. The events that followed make it clearer that it was after all, the issue of class above everything else. The girls who were involved in committing that heinous crime, were able to get the pre-arrest bail, and they didn’t even have to appear before magistrate. This speaks volumes about what goes on in such private schools and how the administration of school with the help of our state’s machinery covers up these acts under that garb of “teenage anger” etc. And the story just does not end here, the victim’s father while speaking to an online news channel said that not only, he is being blackmailed by the school to cut a deal with the families of the perpetrators, but also, he is being threatened to face severe consequences if he will not oblige because, the opposite parties are “powerful”. He also said that his daughter was beaten up for straight 45 minutes and no one from the administration stepped in or tried to stop them. It is quite evident that they had no fear to face any consequences for their actions and maybe it was just a routine activity for them, only God knows.
There are people who are terming this whole incident as just a routine school bullying and that there is no need to involve the authorities and put these teen girls through the juvenile detention system, only the detention from school for a certain time period should be enough. This argument may have some substance but just for the sake of it, let’s assume if things would have gone out of hand? Like they did in the case of Shahrukh Jatoi, where he ended up killing a youngster for the same very reason, because he thought he had the power and the impunity and that he was “untouchable”. From the claims of the victim’s father, it is undeniable that the motivations of these girls were the same because it’s not the mindset of any individual but is prevalent in the whole class.
No one is denying the importance of parenting, corporal punishments by the school, counseling and other such efforts when it comes to fight and take actions against bullying, rather it is an established fact that children in most cases take after from their parents, but we have to keep in mind that sometimes it gets beyond the control of their parents and state has to step in, especially when there are power and class struggles are involved and in such cases, state should protect the vulnerable and weak at all costs. And that’s where I think Unionization should play its role. Instead of discouraging youth from participating in Politics, this act should be encouraged and Unions should be promoted, not the other way around.
The ruling elite of 1980’s decided to deprive the students from their right to mobilize and unite to raise their concerns and it’s been four decades now that the country’s youth have no Political platform and the country’s democracy is on the decline for the same reason. The only possible solution for us to make things better both in Schools and in Campuses, is to break down this myth that Students taking part in Politics and their Unions are somewhat the only reason we see the violence, the opposite of that is actually true. The more political space students will have, the less violent they will be. The example of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is right in front of us, where Students have empowered Unions and they are the forefronts of the struggle against the fascism of the current regime. The President of JNU Students Unions is as powerful as any State Minister. And maybe that’s what exactly scares our ruling elite and the establishment. They do not want that much power in the hands of any Student leader and that too belonging to a public sector University and hence they have made it illegal and unlawful for Students to do “politics”. The absurdity of this claim cannot be stated enough, I mean how can a country who claims to be a Constitutional democracy can put a blanket ban on the nursery of Political Leadership and can deprive a vast majority of its citizens of their fundamental democratic right. This has resulted into the political suffocation that often takes up the shape of violence in campuses. The suffocation that has been created by the state intelligentsia to suppress the idea of a multinational diverse society and to bestow upon it a homogenous, artificial identity must be changed. Students must be allowed to find spaces to share their ideas and respect their identities and ideologies. This is the only way out of Pakistan’s many crises.
The only possible and likely solution, if one is seriously thinking to end this cycle of violence for good, is to revive the culture of Students Unions, so Students can have a peaceful dialogue among, can learn to accommodate political differences and develop this sense of co-existing with their political rivals, and only then, not only the violence can be abolished but in the long run, country’s democracy will be strengthened.