By Sarah Majid
Student participation in campus affairs comes in many shapes. Be it student societies, sometimes called student councils, student governments, student associations, or guild of students, and when elected, student unions; these are such organizations which indulge students in various productive societal activities and play a significant task in protecting student rights in the premises of an institution and outside. They help students to upgrade their skills by social engagement on campuses.
In our university, we have different societies for students on our campus. For example Anti-Harassment Society is one of them. The members of this society strive to manage the safety, guidelines and awareness for the students of the university.
We are working on the awareness sessions. Recently we conducted a training session of self- defence for all the students. Almost 800+ students at a time attended that session with an awareness session. I can proudly announce 800+ students are now aware of basic self-defense techniques in our university. And we are planning to increase the number, and plan more help for the students in future.
The purpose of these societies varies from country to country; however, universally, the purpose of student societies is to represent fellow students in some fashion. The epitome of a student society is the student and the complications or issues faced by him or her.
Student societies provide the basis of leadership development on campuses. They hold debates among different student societies which help them to communicate and understand the conflicting views.
In the case of a student union, at the end of the year, elections are held which helps students to know how to campaign and form a fan base. Sometimes students have to form a coalition with different groups. Hence they are obliged to lose some of their demands. This teaches them how to compromise.
Before the creation of Pakistan, it was students who helped Quaid e Azam in the formation of Pakistan. It was students who carried his message to every street, to every door, and every school. Without the students’ contribution, the Quaid’s mission might not have been possible. It was students in 1968 who first gathered and protested against Ayub Khan which then resulted in the mass movement and finally ended with his resignation. Gen Zia felt threatened by these students and he banned student unions in 1984. Though they were revived to some extent by Benazir, however, the Court again banned them. This is quite a troubling history for these unions. Till then this form of student participation is extinct in Pakistan but student societies have replaced these bodies now.
We can say that religious harmony is necessary to meet and address the challenges like hate, violence, injustice, and intolerance on campuses and the society at large. The student societies can spread a truthful narrative impact in promoting interfaith harmony. With leaders of tomorrow in the lead, we could put a true impact. They can encourage the culture of dialogue among the students and faculty members in the education institutions, particularly universities; so that the students should understand the importance of listening and accepting others opinions and actively participating to promote interfaith harmony.
As student of Lahore College for Women University (LCWU), I have myself observed how student societies contribute to positive development. The students here come from different religious backgrounds. Most of the minority students are Christians. Our university treats them all equally without any distinction. Our classes, activities and courses are the same and the minority students are free to choose any other subject instead of Islamiyat. Everyone is allowed to participate in everything. They enjoy equal opportunities and rights and perform religious duties on will. There’s no judgment. This shows harmony among the students; no matter what, they are always united. Every year on 25th December in LUWU we all celebrate Christmas with our Christian fellows and staff by cutting Christmas cake and joining with their prayers. The LCWU character building society is working on taking initiative in future to make their prayer area in our university as we have a mosque in LCWU. This has also been facilitated through a vibrant culture of student societies on our campus.
To bring about positive changes in society and create permanent and durable peace in the world, we need to promote the culture of dialogue and acceptance of difference of opinion. The universities could play a vital role in educating and advocating the idea of interfaith harmony as they were the nurseries that produce leaders of the future.
The author is General Secretary of the Student Council at Lahore College for Women University (LCWU).