M Murtaza Noor
UNIVERSITIES are considered hub of ideas, innovation, research and dialogue over various societal issues being confronted by any society and country. In Pakistan number of recognized public and private sector universities has been increased to 183 with 109 countrywide campuses. According to 2014-15 figures, the total enrollment in Pakistani universities was 1.295 million. This month (April 2017) witnessed a number of incidents in higher education sector i.e untoward incident in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, Multan Literary Festival at Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan, two days Conference on Promotion of Peace and Tolerance at university campuses of the Punjab’ which was organized by the Working Group for Promotion of Peace and Tolerance at University Campuses of the Punjab and Punjab Higher Education Commission at Lahore and other related events.
Dialogue on ‘Peace, Literature and Universities’ held by Inter University Consortium for the Promotion of Social Sciences Arts and Humanities (IUCPSS) at National Book Festival at Pak-China Friendship Centre Islamabad. Shaken by Mishal incident that occurred recently in Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, the experts were of opinion that the attitude of the society has severely affected the universities which should be other way around. Questions should be raised and answered to put an end to intolerance, extremism and violence at the university campuses. Accepting different opinions and respecting this difference of opinion is the beauty of the society. Even if a person is a perpetrator then there are other authorities who should have taken care of such matters, but taking the law in one’s hand is totally unacceptable.
Experts from all over the country were of the opinion that since all the Pakistani universities’ inception, no focus has been given on meaningful research, if only the teachers and the institutions could focus and engage more students on research then such incidents could never happen. The role of the university is to initiate the dialogue but its absence has changed the attitude of the society, where the dialogue stops, deadlock begins that leads to extremists’ thoughts.
The universities cannot thrive on external money and they should be autonomous in every regard and settling their own challenges. The universities should prepare their students for 21st century challenges and against nepotism, violence and extremism through engaging them in positive and literary activities. The experts concluded that the universities should not only focus on academics but also on inculcating values of peace, tolerance, diversity and co-existence among the enrolled students. Universities have played a huge role in shaping the dynamics of history and society. Aligarh University, in which Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Shibli Naumani and Hali focused on progressive society so that the Muslims should be well equipped with knowledge and could face the challenges in South Asia. The educationists considered banning of Unions a major setback for students. They were of opinion that the government should enforce implementation of National Action Plan in the country.
But the positive thing which was highlighted during the discussion was that the universities have started holding the literature festivals quite frequently which encourage dialogue among students and attach them with book reading. The recent literary festivals attracted thousands of students in Gujrat, Faisalabad, Islamabad, Gujranwala and Multan. First ever Multan Literary Festival was held on 6-7th April, 2017 at Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan in collaboration with Punjab Higher Education Commission, National Book Foundation, Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences and PHEC Working Group on Promotion of Peace & Tolerance and other literary organizations. This mega activity was greatly helpful in engaging university students in literary activities and bridging gap between academia and literary organizations. Such initiatives need to be supported by the provincial governments. The participants unanimously resolved for introduction of special courses on peace, tolerance & harmony, promotion of literary activities at university campuses through activation/revival of literary societies, active participation of university students in co-curricular activities, public hearing on mission/vision of universities for award of new charter, respect for autonomy of universities and promotion of culture of dialogue & research over various societal issues at the university campuses. Being autonomous bodies, universities should undertake special steps to promote book reading culture among the university faculty and students through organizing book fairs, establishing university book shops and enchaining the budget for university libraries. National Book Foundation can be helpful in establishing bookshops at universities for provision of quality books at discounted rates across the country.
A close interaction among academia, writers, literary personalities and policy makers is the need of the hour in order to resolve various socio-economic problems in Pakistan. With continuous support to literary activities promoting book reading culture among the university youth, can be greatly helpful towards peaceful and tolerant campuses.
— The writer is freelance columnist, currently associated with Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences as National Coordinator.