By: Waqas Alam
Students from remote areas of Balochistan often have problems with admission in universities out of province because of multiple reasons ranging from inaccessibility of internet, inability to travel back and forth and financial issues. However, there are few dynamic student groups within universities which are making things easier by helping students with the admission process, career councelling, raising funds for the needy and organizing events like fun fairs and cultural celebrations.
Balochistan Review, traces back to the root that created these groups and finds out the struggles of students associated with assimilating into universities’ student life today.
All began with Baloch students’ organization (BSO) in 1965. Imran Baloch who is a practicing lawyer in Balochistan High Court and former chairman of BSO told Balochistan Review, “BSO was the student wing of NAP (National Awami Party).”Baloch” instead of “Balochistan” carries a wide and broad concept of inter-linking the Baloch diaspora living in other provinces of Pakistan.”
However, with a turbulent history in terms of ideological shifts, BSO witnessed a lot of division within itself. Today two main fractions of this organization exist as; Pajjar and Mengal and the third group that exists as a separate independent organization is the Baloch Student Action committee (BSAC) which is more inclined toward education and helping university students from across Balochistan.
“Students of Balochistan often have issues with decision making for their major subjects and need a lot of counseling. So our work begins before they even apply for admission. We have formed groups of students who guide the new comers not only with their major or subsidiary subjects but also with accommodation issues in cities like Karachi or Islamabad,” Mutalib Baloch a university student from Awaran district and a member of BSAC told Balochistan Review.
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University, University of Karachi and Qaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad are three of the universities where these groups are actively working. Along with BSAC, Baloch student educational organization (BSEO) that mainly works within University of Karachi is another such organization that helps students.
“Since most students come from rural Balochistan, they have to put extra efforts especially to the academic competition, conversational skills, and adapting to the new environment. Our organizational domain in campus is to tackle these issues without opting any political agenda,” Mohsin Ali from Pasni, a student of Literature and Chairman BSEO told Balochistan Review.
The mechanism of these groups has an interesting aspect. They have no direct link with mainstream politics but their approach is purely political. They conduct yearly elections, and they raise funds for events which can lift up the students academically and intellectually. Female students from Balochistan were previously hesitant to join these groups but as their number is growing, they are also contributing as part of the leadership. However, issues do exist.
Dur Bibi who has previously contested in the election of BSEO from University of Karachi shared her experiences with Balochistan Review, “As I was running for elections, I was questioned by many if I could fulfil the needs of the position as it required going to each department in the university. Even if that was not an issue for me, yet there were concerns from everywhere which did not make my experience that pleasant.”
Member of one of the student groups’ leadership and a student, Sadia Baloch shared her concerns with Balochistan Review, “Balochistan is the province with the lowest literacy rate and when it comes to women, it is only 27%. That mean at least seven in every ten women are not education or enrolled in any institution.”
While there is little hope for female students from Balochistan for higher education through student groups like BSAC or BSEO, the factor that female students distance themselves from the activities of these organizations is another issues. Often Because of cultural norms and exploited notion of “honor”, female students miss out a lot.
“Now it has become indispensable that female students raise equally. Some of the courageous women have challenged this patriarchal culture of male dominance in students groups as well as politics and the misogyny, and discrimination they have faced by tribal elites and gatekeepers within these student groups by making culture vanguard needs to expose in limelight,” Sadia told Balochistan Review.
However, according to BSEO and BSAC, this notion of discriminating female students within these organization is getting eradicated with time as more and more female students are joining universities out of Balochistan. They see it as a positive change and assure to continue encouraging both male and female students to attend universities, participate in student groups, their activities and enhance their skills and academic capabilities so that they can serve their communities back home in more effective ways.
Although the formation of these groups began with Baloch Student Organization (BSO) but today these student groups do not have much to do with the politics. The only target they have is helping students coming from remote areas of Balochistan. Talking about the issues of the students, Saad Aalam a student of Karachi University and Academic Secretary of BSEO, told Balochistan Review, “It is not that easy to help so many students in admission process every year but still we try helping as many as we can. However, the number of reserved seats for the students of Balochistan have been decreasing every year.”
“We fear if this decrease continues, students of Balochistan will have very few choices left for higher education,” explained Dr Nawab Chairman Baloch Student Action committee (BSAC) to Balochistan Review.