The recent incident at the Islamia University in Bahawalpur, where hundreds of cases of sexual harassment and abuse of female students have come to light, indicates that educational institutions have become breeding grounds for the exploitation of students.
Last week, the Baghdadul Jadid police arrested Islamia University Bahawalpur’s chief security officer, retired army personnel, and allegedly recovered ice (crystal meth) and aphrodisiacs from his possession along with a number of objectionable videos of officials and students of the university from his mobile phones. The matter goes back to the time when the university’s Director of Finance, Mohammad Abu Bakr was arrested on June 24 after being stopped at a checkpost where the police recovered crystal ice and some prohibited pills from him. As per reports, he was later booked for the recovery of drugs.
The ban on student unions, which has left students helpless, and at the mercy of corrupt administrations, is at the heart of this problem. Such incidents have become commonplace in universities across the country. Exposing the alarming complicity of the administrative authorities in this abhorrent scenario. Our educational system, especially the examination and grading procedures, empowers these elements to manipulate and toy with students’ lives.
The rampant drug abuse within educational institutions is a web in which the state and administrative machinery of educational institutions are involved. News of such disturbing incidents emerges from educational institutions on the daily, typically some action is taken before the news is brushed under the rug, allowing the culprits to continue their misdeeds with greater confidence. The affected students, particularly young girls, suffer emotionally and psychologically. Religious fundamentalist elements exploit such incidents to propagate vehement opposition to women’s education.
In some cases, many girls are taken out of universities by their parents or denied permission to enrol, reinforcing the message that women should be restricted and confined within veils and walls. The revelation of an organized network involved in harassing female students at Balochistan University prior to the incident at Islamia University in Bahawalpur points towards a system where accountability and action are nowhere to be found. A few years back a medical student, Nimrata Chandani, was found dead in her hostel room in Chandka Medical College, Larkana in mysterious circumstances. Soon after, another student, Noshin Kazmi, was found dead in the same manner. Officials dubbed these incidents as suicide, however later investigation did not align with this statement. To date no conclusions could be made in these cases.
Students in educational institutions are forced to endure humiliation and degradation on a daily basis. Even innocent celebrations, such as Holi, organized by students themselves, are curtailed to prevent any further religious fundamentalism, regression, and oppression within the educational environment. From university employees, administrative staff, and state officials to powerful individuals, capitalists, and political elites, all are part of this brutal system of sexual exploitation and blackmail. The corruption of the capitalist system and the mindset of exploitation have turned society into a patient of sexual and psychological disorders.
The tragedy is that incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation are associated with women’s attire and are presented directly or indirectly, implying that women are not human but mere objects of desire who should be confined behind veils and walls. Not long ago Imran Khan, then prime minister of Pakistan, made similar statements, revealing that there is hardly any fundamental difference in the mindset of the Taliban and ruling classes.
In light of the incident at the Islamia University in Bahawalpur and series of similar incidents, the Revolutionary Students Front (RSF) makes the following demands:
- Inclusion of students representatives in the investigation and inspection process.
- Shifting away from associating incidents with individuals’ personal lives and emphasizing the social aspect of the crime.
- Transparency in all investigations, with each stage of the investigation being made public.
- Public disclosure of the results and report of the investigations.
- Holding the culprits accountable under the strictest legal provisions.
- Establishment of special committees in every educational institution to curb harassment, comprising of student participation.
- Lifting the ban on student unions and announcing the schedule of union elections promptly.
- Involving students at every level in decision-making to pave the way for a transparent, progressive, and healthy educational system.
We call upon all progressive forces, particularly student organizations, to unite their voices against this pervasive oppression and advocate for the establishment of student-led harassment committees in all educational institutions. Additionally, we demand the reinstatement of student unions, fostering a platform for students to voice their concerns and aspirations.