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October '07: Youth for Democracy

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Youth for Democracy
Young people are often referred to as the future of a country. We would beg to differ. Young people ,argues the October individu-spotlight are not just the future but also the present as they are effected by the problems of today . For this reason, it is important that their political voice be also heard and articulated. Feedback as always is welcomed in response to the ideas expressed in this individualland spotligt.

The day Mohtramma Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan ending her eight years self imposed exile was incidentally marked all over the world as the World Youth Day for Democracy. The International Youth Day is Aug 12th but in October young people’s enthusiasm and hunger for democracy and democratic activism is celebrated. The unprecedented number of young people in the world today can be isolated as one of crucial reality factors conditioning political and cultural developments. Age distribution is one demographic variable in the complex of social and political life, but the tremendous growth of world population in the 20th century has magnified its dynamic personalities.

Through the centuries, spontaneous youth organizations have had a continuous existence but ferment among the young with it subsequent departure from political tradition can be observed only at certain times and certain areas. As a result young people become conspicuous in public life in periods of rapid demographic growth. According to political historians the Protestant Reformation in West Central Europe provides an example of one of the outstanding youth movements in history. Luther himself established the Ninety five theses at the age of thirty four .He wrote his three great Reformation tracts in 1520 at the age of 37.In the 1520s,Wittenberg University which has been founded in 1502 boasted probably the youngest faculty in the history of German Universities. Our very own Benazir Bhutto course, was only thirty five when she first became the Prime Minster .

However presently, what is the state of youth activism for democracy in Pakistan?

In Pakistan , on the face of it, one might declare that there is a cognitive dissonance found amongst the policy makers when it comes to the youth of the country. The government presents the National Youth Policy. This policy emphasizes youth's political participation but does not mention how they are supposed to participate? Political parties are the vehicle of primary politics. They provide the platform for young and old to articulate the views. When this major vehicle is closed to the youth, how are they expected to be active in the political arena? How can they responsibly cast their votes when they are not allowed to interact with the parties and individuals that they are voting for? The voting age has been reduced to eighteen yeas but how is the young person expected to make an informed choice when s/he cannot engage in student politics due to a ban on student unions?

In support of maintaining the ban on students unions, people declare that a lot of violence was perpetuated on campuses through these unions. They passionately talk about how blood flowed from the hands that should be stained with ink stains and not blood stains, how the educational institutions administration was a hostage to these violent student unions, how the institutions used to be closed for months due to strikes and fights of the unions etc. One can go on but all of these instances, perhaps miss the basic argument. Banning student unions because of the violence associated with them is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Violence cannot be condoned nor is accepted .However to ban student unions because of the violence similar to banning all cars in the country because of lives being lost in car accidents.

Whether we like to admit it or not, politics is as natural a phenomenon as breathing. It is fundamental, it is essential and it is present in all aspects of life be it home, family or work. To keep young people away from an essential and fundamental reality is to rob them of rich life experiences. The question is will we continue to rob our young?

Youth are referred to as the future of the country. This is ludicrous. They are not the future. They are the present. These young individuals are not living in 2020. They are living in 2007 and so are effected when educational institutions teach distorted histories. They are effected when mediocre teachers rob them of their time to learn. They are effected by depressing unemployment figures. They live in the present and thus are effected by the lack of recreational facilities. They breath in 2007 and that is why are effected by pollution. They live in the present and that is why are effected by the media, by civil society, by government actions and decisions. In short the twenty year old is as effected by the present social, economic and political scene as a forty year old. The effect is the same except for one very important difference. The country’s socio-political environment increases the cynicism of the forty year old but the twenty year old loses hope, loses inspiration and most devastatingly loses his dreams. One can almost go as far as saying that the youth has even more stakes in the present because he loses his hopes for the future too while the forty year would merely shrug.

This loss of hope and dreams amongst the young person given the country's problems is even more devastating because s/he feels helpless. The young individual, even if s/he wants to, cannot contribute because s/he is kept out of the loop. S/he is told that they are the future and so should save it for the future. Young people who have a chance have done phenomenal tasks such as Shehzad Roy's Zindgai Trust, Abrar ul Haq Sahara Trust and of course fundraising for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital.

When the terrible earthquake struck , it was the youth of Islamabad who pulled people out of the Marghalla Towers rubble while security forces stood by because allegedly they had not received orders. So given a chance, the youth by creative ways has done amazingly well.

So, why are the youth kept out of the loop? Even if we accept the youth is the future argument for a minute, isn't it all the more reason to give space to the youth because a future is built on a past. If young people are effected by the environment around them, by the education policies, by the financial policies and by the political policies of the present day, than why are they kept out of politics? If the voting age has been reduced to eighteen years, than why is the eighteen year old's political expression avenues banned

Why is it that s/he is asked to sign a form at the time of college admission vowing not to indulge in politics. If the youth are expected to play' a positive role ' in the country than why is the most basic and wide avenue of politics closed for them?

Historically speaking , if one looks at it student political activism has a key issue in the Third World despite its decline in the industrialized nations. The historic development of student politics and student involvement in independence struggles, the role of students as incipient elites and the fragility of the political structures of many Third World countries all contribute to the efficacy of student politics. Universities, as key intellectual institutions in their societies have played an important role in Third World countries historically. Students especially those in the social sciences are fairly easy to mobilize and they often have a basic interest in political and social issues. It is argued that student movements emerge from their social and political environment and it is not surprising that activism had remained a powerful force in the Third World historically . A case in point is the youth role in the creation of Pakistan. The age that we live in with broad band connectivity offers a number of opportunities for better coordinated activism. The question is will we benefit from it? Perhaps a more important question is do the Pakistani youth have the space and opportunity to benefit from today’s opportunities for democratic activism?



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