Social media outburst over a video clip of few girls dancing on folk songs in a TV’s morning show touched new highs last week. The gunnery sergeants of ‘honour’ and ‘ghairat’ encamped in their laptop trenches and started their shelling with vitriol, bigotry, abuse and misogyny as prime weapons messing up with emotions of people. The female students, some of whom are in the final years of their degree at the KIU Gilgit-Baltistan, had to face unprecedented criticism and abuse and were tagged as a stain on Gilgit-Baltistan’s ‘pure’ culture.
As if the hatred and disgust of people were not enough, the Awami Action Committee and the KIU administration jumped to the scene and made the issue messier by their outright condemnation of the “mixed” dance event.
The university administration stooped to the newest lows by declaring the helpless female students guilty who attended the show. The incident has also exposed the ugly politics among the KIU staff and colleagues that plays out generally in Pakistan’s higher education institutes as it was reported that some teachers from the university are instrumental in fueling the fire to settle their personal scores with their colleagues. Some of them reached out to the leadership of the Awami Action Committee and unnecessarily dragged them into the issue. Thus, the open-minded and liberal faculty members are now afraid to come in open support of the students.
While the debate on the culture, its dynamism and nuances is pertinent at this point I would like to present some views on why students are always at the receiving end in our broader social and educational setup and why have we failed to address their genuine concerns.
The most important question that we should ask is: If the university deems the mixed gathering of male and female students in a cultural show inappropriate why it sent the students to the event in the first place? If the students went there voluntarily without the permission of the university administration, under what pretext or law the university is deliberating action against them?
At this point when common people are hurling abuses and expressing outrage, the university must side with their students and defend them in the face of this open bigotry. The perception about a university, as we understand, is to be a space for grown-up and mature students where they can nurture their talents, intellect and critical thinking, be appreciated for expressing their feelings and ideas. The university must stand behind its students instead of vilifying and targeting them for participating in dance.
Secondly, it is also observed that few teachers who have vested interests and those trying to play down others have been at the forefront of this malicious campaign against girls. They reached out to Awami Action Committee leadership which took no time to pass their misogynist rants in a presser. The ugly politics among colleagues and faculty is the hallmark of Pakistan’s public sector universities which always results in the victimization of students. Having banned student unions in universities the state has given clean chit to the university administrations which regularly indulge in corruption and nepotism. Since the students can’t organise and raise a voice, there is no effective way to check the high-handedness of university administrations.
Thirdly, we had high hopes from the AAC, which emerged as a spontaneous movement against the withdrawal of subsidy on wheat being supplied to Gilgit-Baltistan and it largely remained successful in achieving its objectives.
It is very saddening to see that AAC is now involved in such petty issues of women participation in dance. Instead of moral policing the students and youth of Gilgit-Baltistan, the AAC must focus its attention on the most pressing issues of the region such as enforced disappearances, victimization and intimidation of political activists through fake cases and suppressing the fundamental right of freedom of expression and denial of national and democratic rights.
Fourthly, the AAC must highlight the issues about the dismal conditions of educational institutes and hostels, fee hikes and poor transport facilities for students. It should try to stand in solidarity with the students and form a critical mass among them if it ever hopes to achieve something substantial and important. There are so many accounts of senior professors and staff of KIU harassing the female students, blackmailing them and thus jeopardising their future. The AAC must take notice of this issue and raise it at appropriate forums instead of moral policing the students.
Finally, the KIU administration should clarify its position and stop victimising students to eclipse their dismal failure in the governance of campus. The university administration must understand that malicious campaign against students could get oxygen by their criminal silence. If not countered at this moment the hate campaign against female students and radicalization in educational institutions and society could suffocate us and deprive us of the immense talents and future that we are blessed to have in our women.
Zaighum Abbas teaches at the Department of Political Science in Government College University Lahore.