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Expelled: Pakistan's dangerous campus censors

Expelled: Pakistan's dangerous campus censors

Just because we haven't fully learned to command freedom of speech offline does not mean we should not protest the erosion of freedom of speech in the digital age. More so for our students.

In addition to being in an environment of learning they must also be schooled in the right to express their thoughts without fear of retribution.

This is why, when a student expelled for his comments on Facebook against a university supported event, we all have cause to be concerned.

This is not a one off case, in the past few months private institutions and colleges have gone down this slippery slope and chucked out students for one thing or the other related to freedom of speech or expression, from dress codes to getting into trouble for inviting controversial guests on campus.

Also read: KU cancels student's admission for inviting Ayyan Ali on campus

In this case, the expelled was a PhD student, Kashan Haider Gilani. When Kashan posted a comment on Facebook criticising the Kissan Mela, a seemingly benign act, and a simple exercise in free will, he would not have imagined such a harsh punishment.

Perhaps our national condition is one where we are reactive by default, especially when it comes to defining our power and superiority.

Kashan was accused of defaming the university and bringing a “bad name” to the institution, pointing to what seems like a frailty of reputations.

When educational institutions penalise students for content they post in their own private premises, off institute hours it creates such a broad brush of control that it simply cannot be legal.

Article 19 of Pakistan’s constitution protects freedom of expression though even that comes with a lot of caveats. Entering into an academic field does not mean that students shed their rights as citizens and their access to free speech. If anything it should make it more concrete.

Also read: The Model UN fiasco — A dialogue with intolerance

Institutes are so prone to punish, intimidate and censor whistleblowers and free thinkers that it stifles any space for open feedback on inadequate services and poor policies. It is precisely the need for an opposing voice that keeps schools transparent and accountable.

If our academic institutes have come to this point, it is difficult to imagine it in other aspects of society, such as politics or government.

Educational institutions in pre-partition India, such as Aligarh were the hotbed for activists, free thinkers and poets. Likewise, universities were instrumental in helping Pakistan maintain its pushback against some of our most retrogressive governments.

Although we cannot let political parties turn students into their stooges instead of maintaining their academic focus and discipline, still it is important that we allow them to be a part of the dialogue — they are our most conscientious stakeholder.

Children in ancient Athens always wanted to be philosophers and thinkers. No one ever becomes that if your mentors beat you down at the slightest indication of critical thinking and questioning of established mores.

Sadly, our educational institutions are now full of people who choose the profession as a last resort and think of their theoretical dynamism for moral superiority. As a result, they seek to establish only obedience without rationality.

Digital technologies enable students to exercise their rights, only on a larger scale. These definitions and criticisms by students deserve our protection online.

At least, if we believe in protecting the same rights that guarantee us our freedoms. Do we?

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