The student protest against the PU administration for firing Assistant Professor Ammar Ali Jan and for his reinstatement is another demonstration against the prevailing far-right autocratic environment of the University. Prominent academic and youth activist Ammar Ali Jan told by the Director of Punjab University’s(PU) Sociology department to disengage from teaching or coming to campus as his students were becoming too vocal, highlights the despotic and retrograde tendencies of the PU administration.
Where the University recurrently makes headlines for mainstreaming archaic and conservative ideologies that ultimately translate in xenophobic and radical confrontations between members of the student body of variegated ethnicities and faiths, it is rare that the predominantly conservative faculty includes someone in its ranks who embraces a pedagogy oriented towards critical thinking rather than rote learning.
It was inevitable that this deviation from the accepted (enforced) status quo of the University that panders to the far-right elements in the political spectrum and is disseminated and imbibed by the more conservative factions of the student body, would not be tolerated for long. The University administration known for its religio-political affinity was quick to clampdown on the more progressive line of thought adopted by students; campaigning for women rights, racial profiling, anti-harassment, student rights etc., in raising which Ammar Ali Jan’s role was pivotal.
It is essential that our higher education systems embrace critical thinking and progressive methodologies instead of peddling a regressive and divisive ideological culture on their campuses. Where the University gives wide berth to conservative political parties holding seminars and promoting their agendas in an educational institution, it should extend the same right other schools of thought. These student protests call for a transparent, accessible and approachable education system that allows them freedom to voice their ideas and an equitable chance at life after graduation.
Other faculty members who were similarly fired by the PU administration, all represent the same divergence in their approach to teaching where they seek to engage the students and encourage them to question the dominant narratives that oppress marginalised members of society. Where any dissent and confrontation has been met with severe punishment and labels of terrorism, such protest stand in danger of further exposing the students to penalisation, violence and ostracisation from their peers. PU needs to uphold and safeguard the rights of its faculty and students. The conflation of politics and religion in one of the mainstream Universities of the countries should be highly discouraged to allow for an unbiased and equitable right to education.