Student unions are indispensable to any higher education institution, much as trade and workers’ unions are essential for the rights of traders and workers. A retrospective glance at Pakistan, particularly towards the end of the 20th century, reveals the emergence of student unions even before the country’s inception.
In Karachi, Hashoo Kewalramani stands out as a renowned communist and the pioneer of Sindhi nationalism. His influence was so profound that the esteemed Sindhi poet, Sheikh Ayaz, drew inspiration from him. Kewalramani’s pamphlet, “End this March of Imperialism,” is a testament to his dedication to student politics.
Founded in 1950 at Dow University during a tumultuous era marked by migrations, socio-political unrest, and economic challenges, the Democratic Student Federation (DSF) swiftly expanded its reach across Karachi’s colleges. The DSF addressed academic issues and was instrumental in resisting various college administrations. Notably, Dayaram Jethamal (DJ) Science College emerged as the DSF’s hub. By 1952, DSF became the official political wing of the leftist or communist party.
Among the DSF’s prominent figures were Mazhar Saeed, the former General Secretary of DSF DJ College, and Shahida Haroon, the past DSF President for women. Haroon has noted in interviews how the Inter-collegiate body convened its meetings at Dow Medical College, highlighting the organization’s structured approach. In 1953, DSF introduced the “Charter of Demands,” but a rally promoting this charter faced a ruthless onslaught outside DJ Science College, leading to the tragic deaths of many students. Despite such adversities and the global political struggle between the Communist and Capitalist blocs, DSF’s advocacy bore fruit with the establishment of the University of Karachi in 1955. However, the DSF was disbanded in 1954.
Subsequent student movements, like the National Student Federation (NSF), faced governmental suppression, especially during Ayoub Khan’s Martial Law era. Yet, determined figures like Sindhi historian Gul Hassan Kalmati persevered in championing student rights through the NSF.
Some commentators argue that political parties and nationalist groups have perpetually disrupted the academic environment, leading to instability on campuses. However, I believe it’s imperative to recognize the countless national parties and leaders who have worked tirelessly for student welfare. Iconic figures like Communist student leader Jam Saqi and Comrade Nazeer Abbasi, among many obscured by history’s shadows, played monumental roles. For instance, the struggle of Sindhi students on 4th March 1967 at the University of Sindh is a testament to their unwavering spirit. Despite facing violent police action, the students’ relentless pursuit of justice led to the replacement of the university’s VC with a dedicated and honest leader.
In essence, student politics has been pivotal for university progress. Regrettably, student unions were prohibited during Zia’s regime and have remained so ever since. The call for the restoration of student unions is not just necessary; it’s overdue.
Farooque Ahmed Sargani is a student at the University of Karachi and Information Secretary, at Sindhi Sagird Sath KU.