Campus clashes are not a new phenomena. Yet, it is one of the top troubling realities of today's public sector universities. The history of students being used in politics, and politics among students, in Pakistan, goes back to the uprising in late 60s, along with the high time in 90s of student unions which saw its worst clashes. Secular or religious, whatsoever the ideology on the surface, at the core, in universities, in matters of students, it’s all about retaining or attaining influence over anything within the given academic estate. The system did give the country numerous political leaders, but the drop scene came with the last martial law. And thus, till now, there has been no revival of student union elections. In spite of previous government’s initial bid to remove the ban, seemingly, the knee jerk reaction is linked to the past of politicized unions and their difficulty in being mimed and tamed – thus, it failed to materialize.

Since then, till now, the occasional protests by student federations/organizations/councils in public sector universities tend to be related to annual fee augmentations by the given universities. Protests of such nature are also seen in the west. In 2010 they were witnessed in United Kingdom, where violence and vandalism ensued. Yet the fact that remained common, there and here, was that in the long run, these efforts have been futile, as fee augmentation has set itself as a necessary evil with growing inflation, globally.

The rest of the year in our universities is of selective brawls: hostels, departments and personal 'issues'. The result is often lockdowns/strikes, rallies and road blocks, vandalism of university property, hospitalization of the brutality beaten, police arrests and at times student suspensions/expulsions. No matter how severe the reaction by authorities post ruckus, the Repeat button is switched on like a lizard’s tail grows back, new and strong.

Something of a similar nature has been seen twice, in the last few weeks, sprouting at the top two universities of Pakistan. The question being, where is it coming from and how can this possibly end?

To an observer, this regressive and primitive behavior causing student clashes is not far from the disgruntled ‘crime and violence infested’ society that is also plagued with sectarianism and terrorism. Let’s hope, in some way, the government decides to not use its iron fist every now and then, for dimming down a certain violent event in news, but instead, thinks and mulls over it with due diligence, to remove the genome of violence from the medium of higher education. They have to understand that the fear of subverting minority rights by a dominant majority, or shaking up of a set tradition, or a status quo by a rising minority, both cases lead to agitation as the masses collectively have lost trust in authorities. Government can now either ban the existence of councils, societies and student organizations or redevelop an evolved form of them that can coexist. In this process, the government has the ability to help the nation in longer run and on many levels. But till any 'thoughtful' further action, the public sector universities in Pakistan are turning into venues for proxy war between, liberalism and fundamentalism.

Previously, the Quaid-i-Azam University got in the limelight of news and social media, with a violent brawl that took place on 19th of February between two student groups. This, according to newsvine, was linked to personal vendetta from past brawls among students of an ethnic council and a fundamentalist student federation. This coincided with the annual fee augmentation, hence, student strike resulted. On 21 March a clash among similar groups took place in Punjab University.

Fight. Strike. Repeat.

It is a matter of grave concern and requires due diligence, as neither the students should be forcefully silenced, nor the academic activities be allowed to get sabotaged. Those in the administrative roles, for maintaining law and order within the university premises, should be impartial, autonomous and detached from any academic research-related role.

Our public sector universities are blessed in terms of culture and attitudes of multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-stature students coming together in harmony. And if ever this was to be bought with an admission to a private institute with such rich tradition, it would have claimed millions of rupees to experience that. The two universities are the epitome of prestige in terms of research and tradition. It is something, the personnel at helm of educational affairs can work to preserve and promote. As the need of the hour, also provide safety and security, physically and intellectually.

On  the other hand, the Higher Education Commission seems to be stepping up to next level from directorate of student affairs and hall councils, with HEC’s Grievance Redressal Portal. I hope the HEC will highlight its initiative more vigorously in universities and pragmatically rise to the occasion, so that students can voice their opinion and be heard, as public universities are not some 'heartless mechanical' degree-generating-machines. Most of all, it has to gain students’ confidence and help to minimize instance of agitation in the name of ‘being heard’. The students too have to think themselves, renounce violence, bemoan vandalism and agitation, generate civilized way for showing their reaction and promote coexistence as well as help the consciously concerned authorities to help them in return! Thus, in the long run, a healthier higher education medium today will lead to a healthier society tomorrow.