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Monday, February 27, 2012

Campus Chronicles, time to maybe act?

I had to think twice before I started work on this piece of mine, well this would not be the first time that I would be thinking twice before executing a piece of writing, but like my teachers over the years have taught me when there is an idea in one's mind and the will to write, one must not stop. My initial reluctance was once again partially out of fear for my own safety and also partially due to the minor contradiction with something I believe so strongly in, which is freedom of thought, expression and belief. Normally I would not be putting forward suggestions that religious people or those representing the religious school of thought. Regardless of how right-wing their ability to express themselves should not be limited, at the same time however a big part of me feels that maybe it is time to act.  Just maybe it is high time to at the very least come up with a sustainable strategy to manage the out of control rise of the right wing religious influence and presence in Pakistan, especially in our centers of learning, our universities.

Right wing religious organizations in Pakistan have been in the news once again, no surprises the news is coming  once again from the province of Punjab which in the years has seen significant radicalization and intolerance. Pakistan's second largest city the beautiful city of Lahore which takes great pride in being the cultural capital of Pakistan now finds itself heading towards losing its status as Pakistan's cultural hot spot and being surrounded by intolerant right wing ideology. A few weeks earlier, the a lawyers lobby group which associates itself with right wing religious ideology managed to legally get products manufactured by Shezan Pakistan banned from all premises where the movement of the legal community takes place. The reason for targeting Shezan was it's Ahmadi ownership. Ahmadi's are viewed as non Muslims by Pakistan's constitution. Regardless of what the law states about the status of Ahmadi's regarding religious labels, it is inappropriate to target a business or industry based on the religious beliefs and practices of it's owners. Am the I the only one who feels that this is a silly witch hunt targeting them because of their socioeconomic status. Would it have been fair to assume back then  that it was only a matter of time before those with similar ideologies struck again, some where in that city?

Right wing religious groups have struck again, this time the venue for the latest news making venture is the campus of Pakistan's oldest university, the University of the Punjab in Lahore. The University of the Punjab is an institute which is older than the country that is located in, it once reflected the academic glory of the capital of United Punjab during colonial times. Even while the British were ruling the sub continent, people from all corners of India, from Khyber to the Bay of Bengal descended upon Lahore and the University of Punjab to seek knowledge and enlightenment. For over a century it has been a center of learning and a mixing of culture, ideas and thoughts and it seems for the first time in the history of the university it's status as an institute of tolerant enlightenment is being challenged and put at risk. A recent news story on the Pakistani newspaper the Express Tribune's online edition caught my attention with regards to the latest hooliganism activities of these right wing religious groups and stimulate countless questions in the mind of the person reading it.

Right wing religious groups are too be expected at Universities across the world unless one belongs to a highly secular society such as those in some Scandinavian countries. The reason for this is the diversity from all walks of life that institutes of higher learning attract. In the recent case of Punjab University in Lahore, following the lawyer's initiatives this right wing religious student group has managed to get Shezan products banned from campus, but that is not the only thing that they have managed to do. Even this is not a full fledged official ban, such religious right wing groups have used thuggish politics and the threat of force to keep tuck shops on campus from keeping Shezan products on their shelves. Even Pepsi Cola is not permitted on campus due to the Jewish ownership of the Pepsi Cola company in the United States, I bet Coca Cola would be super happy to hear this. Their actions on campus are not just limited to just keeping Shezan off the shelf from tuck shops on campus, they wish to impose a lot more. They have been making attempts to impose their way of life onto the students of Punjab university, and are using the religious argument rhetoric as their trump card to get away with it. Other notable actions by such groups that one hears about include segregation of canteens, harassment of students for intermixing, trying to force people up at dawn for Fajr prayers and even using their collective power to extract funds through extortion from various stakeholders associated with the university. These stake holders include shop owners and distributors of certain goods and products which supply to the University.

Now this brings me back to my original point, is it high time, the higher education board and the relevant authorities at university get together and work out a sustainable strategy by means of which such rampant and out of control religious radicalization can be managed and contained? Freedom of speech, thought, expression, worship is one thing, but a university is no place for fascist and intolerant behavior, these institutes are the beacons of light, knowledge and wisdom that shape the bright minds of today and tomorrow which take the nation forward with them.

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