It is thrilling and inspiring to read about societies which transformed from the old system to a new one. Generally, the process of change is initiated by students, workers and intellectuals concerned with the backwardness of society that they live in.
One example of this change is Russia, which was under the grip of old medieval conservative traditions and customs, while other countries of Europe were advancing technologically, scientifically and intellectually.
Peter, the czar pioneered modernisation of the Russian society by introducing the European model. However, he was more interested in introducing modern technology rather than political and social reforms, so he maintained the old autocratic political system ruled over by a powerful aristocracy.
However, once reformation began, the demand for more reforms gradually increased. Universities were founded, under strict supervision of government agencies, where students were acquainted with new ideas created in Europe by philosophers and writers. It is said that Nicholas 1(1825-1855), once stopped his carriage in front of the University of Petersburg and remarked that it was a “den of wolves”.
In the beginning these ‘wolves’ or students were mild and passive but on a staple diet of new ideas, they gradually became violent and aggressive. It was the love of their country and a passion to change the image of Russia that mobilised them to bring about change in order to be able to compete with other European countries.
The students read Kant, Hegel, French philosophers and socialist authors including Marx and became inspired to challenge the autocracy. They demanded more political rights in order to play an active role in politics.
To achieve their objectives, some students did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives. Some were tortured, while some were hanged, and others exiled to Siberia. They endured hardship for the sake of their country and society.
The other group which became very active was the new and emerging intelligentsia. Through their writings, they created patriotic feelings and passion among the readers to incite them to come forward and struggle for civil and democratic rights. Despite censorship and control of secret agencies, they spread their ideas among the educated classes. As a result of their efforts, new movements such as nihilism, populism, and socialism emerged with a fervour to rid the society of conservative traditions and transform it to a progressive model.
The change from above was brought about by the czars while the change from below was orchestrated by students, workers and the intelligentsia; together paving the way for the 1917 revolution. The whole narrative of change is exciting and inspiring to those who want to transform their society from conservatism to liberalism.
In Pakistan, students, workers and intellectuals compromise with the existing system and prefer to keep silent on critical issues. Since the time of Ayub Khan, students no longer play an effective political role and confine their activities to the college campus. Instead of raising a voice against injustice and exploitation, they waste their energy and are involved in activities like cheating in exams and harassing teachers. They are like puppets for their supporting political parties and their task is to disturb the academic atmosphere of universities and colleges. They are neither inspired by new ideas to challenge conservative traditions nor have a sense of respect and dignity.
When political parties dominate the campus with arms and weapons, they silence their opponents and the undemocratic and anti-liberal attitude of their party is reflected. One cannot expect these students who act like hooligans to play a positive role in society.
As far as the intelligentsia is concerned, it has played no positive role to create social and political awareness. During the tenure of Ayub Khan, they readily submitted to the agenda of the government and joined the Pakistan Writer’s Guild, set up by the government to establish a control on writing. They travelled by train from Karachi to different cities and expressed their support and loyalty to the dictator.
The same compromising policy was followed during the period of Z.A. Bhutto when the Academy of Letters was formed to ensure the support of writers for the government. When Gen Zia invited them to Ahl-i-qalam conferences, the majority would accept the invitation to show their allegiance to the military dictator.
When the media, students, intellectuals and trade union leaders fail to resist the existing system and take concessions for their own benefit, there is little hope left for change or betterment of the society. Lacking political consciousness, on the one hand people welcome military dictators as their deliverers and on the other hand, they are equally pleased when democracy comes into power. Their only hope for a solution of their issues either lies with a dictator or a democratic government.
Writer: Dr. Mubarak Ali
The writer is a reputable Pakistani historian, activist and scholar.
THE PASHTUN TIMES