Universities A Mirror Image Of Pakistani Society[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
Muhammad Jibran Nasir is one of the most fearless and outspoken young social activists the country has seen for some time. He does not shy away from voicing his opinion on most matters that are Pakistani, earning him a huge fan base largely made up of the country’s youth. But his antics have also attracted an equal number of critics. An influencer in the true sense of the word, Khadijha Tariq sat down with Jibran to discuss youth, education and activism.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
Jibran Nasir burst out on the national mainstream with fiery speech in Karachi during the run up to the 2013 general elections. His words struck a chord with many young Pakistanis who knew things were not really that right in Pakistan. It was then that he began to amass a loyal following of his own. He has gone on to found Elaj Trust, a social welfare organisation involved in providing relief services to victims of flood, drought, heat wave and earthquake. Jibran also founded Never Forget Pakistan, an advocacy and rights awareness organisation that raises voice for marginalized sections of the society. Despite three impressive, and sometimes controversial, election campaigns and three subsequent defeats, Jibran continues down the path of activism and remains a a voice of sanity that is not afraid of calling spade a spade. With that in mind, we thought it would make perfect sense to ask him what he thought of the country’s education landscape, especially if Pakistani universities were any good at accepting and celebrating diversity.
According to Jibran, Pakistani universities were a mirror reflection of the Pakistani society. “The society collectively lacks the much-needed perseverance and courage to accept a divergent set of opinions,” he said. “The societal milieu itself has failed in accepting differences and celebrating them and hence accepting the same from universities would be to live in the fool’s paradise.” He said had Pakistani universities been melting points of ideas just like in the West, Pakistani students would have been free to express themselves without fear of consequence. “Student narratives are derived from university charters that toe the government’s line. This diminishes the role of students at universities who are not allowed to raise their concerns and lack prospects to express themselves freely.”
Union Or Not?
Jibran has also been in favor of reviving student unions, which are now in the third decade of having been banned. Student unions not only provide students with the much-needed representation at the university level, but also act as mediators between the student populace and university administrations.” But has the ban made Pakistani students any less political, we could not help but ask. Well, being politically informed and politically trained are different things,” he said. “People these days are more politically informed due to consumption of information, however, the degree to which these perspectives are positive or negative depends on the type of content they are exposed to. The major problem in our country is a serious lack of avenues where ideas can be shared, like you mentioned in your previous question.” Jibran said the students needed platforms where they could share their ideas, learn the art of listening and can learn to accept conflicting opinions held by others. “Students unions allowed debate and discourse to flourish and exposed students to democratic process and values. They allowed a right-wing student to work together with, say, a left-wing student and vice versa. Such engagement helped built bridges between two sides of the divide. Unfortunately, we have failed in this endeavor.”
Role of Educational Institutes in Undoing Student Biases
Continuing our probe into what Jibran considered Pakistani universities should be doing, we asked him how higher education institutes could infuse good values along with good education in youngsters. “It is unfair to accept training of students on moral lines by their respective universities, particularly when the society itself has failed in upholding ideals such as patience, tolerance and acceptance towards diversity,” Jibran responded. Social training does occur at university; it is reinforced much earlier by social milieu. A majority of students has already gone through life altering experiences before university and have formed opinions, biases and perspectives. What universities can do, however, is ensure that these biases do not infringe another person’s right to express his/her opinions openly. The need of the hour is to provide tools of discussion and discourse to students through open forums. Students must be provided avenues to share ideas in non-violent ways so that they learn that people can differ from each other. This will allow students to be more receptive towards others.”
The societal milieu itself has failed in accepting differences and celebrating them and hence accepting the same from universities would be to live in the fool’s paradise
Our discussion also led us to the world of social media, which has become a great tool for youngsters for raising a voice. At the same time, it has become an effective tool for inciting hatred and violence on various grounds including religion, ethnicity race and culture. Jibran said no individual had the right to or should be allowed to demean others on the basis of their caste, colour or creed. “If I disagree with you or your opinions, I should be able to express my dissent openly. But to incite hatred and violence against an individual on social media platforms that can put the person’s life at risk should never be allowed.”
Injustice, morality and youngsters
Another area where our youth seem to be lost is finding people who they can look up to. In an era in Pakistan where you can literally get away with the proverbial murder if you have the means, we asked Jibran how the youth could be expected to pursue the path of righteousness. Lamenting where Pakistani society had gotten to, Jibran said in today’s world, “the corrupt are of the view that they can easily barter their immoral acts by spending wealth on poor and needy. You see famous television hosts giving Umrah packages and what not during Ramadan transmissions, but the same channel’s administration does not bother paying workers on time.”
When you dedicate yourself to a particular cause, it doesn’t matter if you make it to the legislative assembly or no
The rights activist said, “Human beings by nature are pragmatic in their approach and are slaves of their personal whims. When a student enters university life, he follows the same set of moral values and ideals that he has already deduced from his social setting. Students comfortably adjust themselves in the set up because they do not have any moral obligation to correct the immoral practices taking place around them, mainly because there is no one to question them. Sadly, we are living in times where no one is interested in stepping forward and working as a messiah for the betterment of people.”
To a question about his political journey and how it had affected his urge to do better, Jibran said winning elections could never be the end. When you dedicate yourself to a particular cause, it doesn’t matter if you make it to the legislative assembly or not. But being in the legislative assembly does ease the process of initiating a change, I admit.I have been working to change the perception of people and if any political party draws inspiration from my work and implements even one initiative in their respective locality, for me, that will be an achievement to cherish. Making it to the federal or provincial assembly is one of the many tools to win the game, but it is not the game itself.” But despite agreeing with Jibran, we understand that getting to an assembly has become the game for many nowadays.
As we approached the end of our discussion, we asked Jibran what needed to be done to help the Pakistani youth realist their true potential. He said academic and career counselling could provide youngsters with the much-needed direction and motivation they were looking for. Academic counselling can help students in the selection of subjects and can provide them with information about the underlying market dynamics and trends beforehand. Career counselling can not only prepare students for the job market but can also assist in developing a realistic approach towards what can be anticipated in the coming times.”
Students unions allowed debate and discourse to flourish and exposed students to democratic process and values. They allowed a right-wing student to work together with, say, a left-wing student and vice versa. Such engagement helped built bridges between two sides of the divide
He said he believed personality building was also very important. “Interpersonal skills and extracurricular activities such as debates and dramatics etc. are vital. How can you accept a 19 or 20-year-old to develop an inherent skill set just after attending a single session of a motivational speaker? Each individual is different from another. Some people can pick things easily, while others struggle to learn and alter their practices. Learning and training that needs to be imparted in the preliminary phases of education is imparted in later stages of student life, which makes it difficult for youngsters to cope with the changes taking place within and around them.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]