By Arsh Azim
I was sitting in my hostel lawn having tea, when a girl came out running and shouting something about the closure of University of Peshawar for three days. All of us were puzzled. We tried to confirm the authenticity of the news by contacting those who had access to the television, and it came out to be true.
Four students of final year of University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar were badly beaten up by about 80 students of a student union affiliated with a religious political party, on March 16, 2010. Their crime? They were listening to music. The students belonging to the religious party’s student federation came and ordered them to switch off the tape recorder. When they didn’t obey, a minor scuffle took place between them, which was broken off and the issue seemed resolved. But that wasn’t the case.
After sometime, a large group of members of the same federation arrived and started beating them with nail embedded sticks. After thrashing them to their heart’s content, the religious party’s student members ran away. The wounded boys were taken to Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) in Peshawar. One of them died soon after he was admitted, but his death didn’t raise even an eyebrow at the university administration office. The lives of others were also in danger. On March 19, at 7:30 pm, the second badly wounded of the four boys, Adnan, died after struggling for life in ICU for three days. His relatives came all the way from the remote area of Bannu and took away his body with tears in their eyes. He was the only son of his widowed mother, and the only bread earner of the family.
At his death, Adnan’s friends, overlooking the consequences, decided to go for vengeance. Their target was the hostels of Peshawar University. As soon as the clock struck 8:30 pm, hostel 6 of the university was set on fire. We could even see the flames and smoke, as that hostel was not too far from ours. We were all baffled at the incident. The university gates were closed. Fire brigades were called immediately. All the students were directed to leave the hostels till the next morning and the university was closed for an unknown time period. So much, so suddenly! It was a shock.
Had those students simply sorted out the matter through dialogue then and there, nothing would have happened. The fascist conduct of the students of the religious part, followed by the unnecessary rebellious action by Adnan and his friends caused this tragedy, which could have been avoided easily. Unfortunately, the murderers of Adnan also belong to our society, and so do Adnan’s friends who tried to avenge his death.
The perpetrators of the act should be tried in the criminal court, and justice must be provided to Adnan’s widow mother. It is also the responsibility of the concerned political party to take notice of the incident. They should start an accountability procedure of their student unions. A check and balance should also be kept upon their modus operandi, i.e., they should not be given the license to use brutality on the basis of which their political workers carry out such acts without any fear of God or even law.
Having said all this, one harsh fact cannot be ignored as well: it’s a little about student unions/federations in general or some specific ones affiliated with a particular political wing. It’s actually about the mindset of the whole society. Adnan’s friends had decided to avenge his cold-blooded murder, and hence he is being discussed everywhere. But there are many Adnans who daily lose their lives to such extremist factors of the society, and their deaths still go unnoticed. Blaming one specific political wing or student federation as the culprit of this heinous act is actually ignoring the fact that they are not only an integral part of the society, but in fact are a true reflection of the intolerant and violent viruses that we proudly foster inside us. We can ‘flush out’ the terrorists in FATA and Waziristan, but what about the terrorist that lives inside us?
Radicalism has penetrated into the veins of our society. From the brutal flogging by the so-called Taliban in Swat in the name of Islam (later claimed to be false), to the inhumane drubbing of the accused by the police to ‘enforce the law’ in Chiniot; and from the sar-e-aam torching of caught thieves alive as a punishment in Karachi, to the setting to ashes a whole Christian settlement over a petty suspicion in Gojra, everywhere we are proving how irrationally violent and uneducated as a society we are. And remember, these are only some of the incidents – the reported incidents, that is.
There is an inherent lack of accountability in the student unions, true, and it is high time that it is realised by the authorities as well. But demanding a ban on student organisations as a whole is not the solution we should be looking for. If done, this might help a little, but to address the real cause of such incidents on long terms, we will have to reform the mindset of the whole society through awareness and enlightened education. We will have to introduce the culture of debate and discussion in the society. We will have to abolish the fascist attitude from our social setup, and yes, it is a gazillion times harder than it seems to be written on paper given our notorious political history and the infamous feudal system. But what needs to be done or should be done will have to be done sooner or later. We have to make a start. The solution of the problem lies with each of us. Change yourself, and see a change in the society.
Remember folks, ‘behas’ (debate) is not something to be avoided; it’s actually the essence of rationality. We hope that the deaths of these young boys don’t go in vain, but result in some procedure, some setup, some change that ensures that such acts are not carried out again in the name of religion or politics.
In the end, I would quote some lines by the maestro Faiz Ahmed Faiz, in the memory of the departed souls:
Qatl-gaahon se chun kar humaray alam
Kar chalay jin ki khaatir jahaan-geer hum