Mar 302017

Punjab University has come up with a nutcracker of a solution to keep its students out of trouble: let’s ban everything. The fuzzy logic was presented as a solution on Wednesday following the outbreak of violence over a cultural event held last week. As a consequence, students have been barred from holding events on campus or from inviting guests on site. The varsity has also banned ‘sloganeering’ by students.

The muzzling of young minds should always be unacceptable. We cannot tell the youth that they are the future and then, in the same breath, tell them to shut up. Universities are supposed to be oases of free thought in the midst of deserts of intolerance and conformism, places where young minds are given the opportunity to bask in the light of the collective knowledge and wisdom of their surroundings. Opinions, however offensive, should be freely expressed there. If offensive, they should be countered with more thought-out opinions, or ideally, with facts. Educated debate on all subjects, politics included, should be encouraged if universities are to help students become better human beings. Unfortunately, the country’s oldest university seems to believe otherwise.

Meanwhile, the university’s new code of conduct also adds a new condition where students’ parents, at the time of admission, will be asked to submit a written testimony that their children will not get involved in any political activity. Given that only wunderkinds would be under the age of 18 when entering university, it is disappointing that a centre of learning would treat its mostly adult students as children. Part of the transition to adulthood, and indeed, of the university experience, is learning that actions have consequences. The intolerance espoused by some elements on campus would reflect an unfortunate lack of familiarity with the basics of being in a multicultural and intellectual environment.

The university also needs to stand up to the armed groups that routinely intimidate the student body. Why should all students be penalised for the actions of these groups?

Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2017.

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