March 01, 2017

How the Fight Between ABVP and DU Is Reminiscent of 70s Pakistan (Parth M N)

The Quint - 1 March 2017

How the Fight Between ABVP and DU Is Reminiscent of 70s Pakistan
Parth M N

A note I wrote a year ago, sadly, continues to be relevant. Do read in the context of the recent controversy involving ABVP at Ramjas College.

The Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad is arguably the most noted public university in Pakistan. Founded in 1965, the campus shone for its liberal outlook.

Describing the pulse of the university, renowned author Steve Coll, in his book Ghost Wars, writes, “During much of the 1970s, the university’s culture had been western in many of its leanings. Women could be seen in jeans, men in latest sunglasses and leather jackets.”

In 1977, capsizing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq assumed power of the country. He would later send Bhutto to the gallows in 1979.

Zia aborted national polls, citing there's "no place for western-type elections" in Islam. Simultaneously, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative political party, campaigned for a "moral transformation of Pakistani society".

In the mid-70s, Jamaat student leaders made their presence felt at the Quaid-i-Azam University. By late 1979, the university’s student union was under their control. The Jamaat student leaders named and shamed women refusing to wear the veil, and threatened liberal and secular students and teachers.

The Jamaat student leaders enjoyed great support from the military dictatorship of Zia. In order to "de-westernise" Pakistan through his "nationalistic" approach, Zia interfered with student politics and promulgated his agenda.

During his 10-year rule, Zia diluted the autonomy of educational institutes by abandoning student bodies and making Arabic and Islamic studies mandatory.

A report from 2014, titled "Islamization fears at Quaid-i-Azam University", notes:

There are far fewer students today who can sing and dance, recite poetry, or read novels. There’s no intellectual excitement, no feeling of discovery, and girls are mostly silent note-takers, you have to prod them to ask questions.

Further, it mentions the fact that no girl wears jeans or dares to sit next to a man.

I wonder why I am being reminded of this bit of history!

(The writer is special correspondent with LA Times. He can be reached at @parthpunter. This is an opinion piece which was originally posted as Facebook post and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)