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Our society and our responsibility

There is an acute need of a Centre for Social Concerns in every university in the country to instil in our students a sense of civil ownership and responsibility

Our society and our responsibility

For the past couple of weeks, I have been talking to my students about a social service project. While the idea excited a few, many were sceptical. After my hour long pep talk to them I asked them why they were so hesitant. Their answers were: I don’t think anyone would care, or what is in it for us, or why would anyone join us, why would the people we are targeting care about this, and finally, this would not work. Their questions were such that I began to think about how we relate and think about the society around us.

A few years ago I wrote an article about the government of Pakistan honouring more people in their honours list. I compared the number of people Pakistan gives national honours with the list in the United Kingdom.

With a population of a third of Pakistan, the UK lists (which are published twice a year) were three times more than Pakistan each time, meaning that about six times more people are honoured in the UK yearly than Pakistan. If one compares the lists further, one notices that in Pakistan only the top people in certain fields are recognised, while in the UK people working in their communities, with NGOs and other local organisations are largely honoured — in fact about 70 per cent of UK honours are given to those working with their local communities.

So a headmistress of a school in rural England would get an OBE, and a person who has visited the elderly in a home for a decade gets a CBE, but such people would never be given an award in Pakistan, let alone recognised. This lack of recognition, among other things, is a reason that work for society’s uplift is not considered worthwhile or ‘proper’ by most people in Pakistan. In fact, most people in Pakistan think it is demeaning and useless work, and that only ‘NGOs walas’, a term often pejoratively used, should concern themselves with it.

Coming back to my students, when I impressed upon them that we should care about our own society and do anything — no matter how little — to make it better, a number said, “But sir, these things are for Western people. Why should we care if, for example, a person beats his donkey — why should we care about animal cruelty when human cruelty exists.” I replied to them by noting that the issue is not to do with the donkey alone — the major problem with it is the fact that the person doing it is cruel. If one day he can beat the donkey mercilessly, he can beat his wife too, and then his young son, seeing both cases might just think that beating someone up, for no matter what reason, is fine.

The HEC is very keen to ensure that every university has a Quality Enhancement Cell, or an Office for Research, Innovation and Commercialisation, but what about a place which enhances our ability as human beings? Shouldn’t that be our primary focus?

Last time, I wrote on these pages about the responsibility of universities to be centres of discourse. Today, I want to add another responsibility to it: that of promoting civic responsibility.

With the society around us becoming more polarised and fragile day by day, it is only in the universities that a sense of civic responsibility can be inculcated in students. Most of our universities do not think much of the humanities and just treat them as useless subjects — all we want is a focus on science and technology. But what is the use of all this science and technology if we cannot even become good human beings, I wonder.

When I was an undergraduate in the United States, my university, the University of Notre Dame, had a Centre for Social Concerns (CSC). Its mandate was to develop social service projects for students.

The CSC also had programmes over Spring and Fall break where a group of students would travel to another part of the United States and take part in a social service project. Then when the students graduated, the CSC would ask them to sign a pledge of social and ethical service. The experience of the university would last with many students, and as alumni contacts show, a large majority of Notre Dame graduate keep working for their communities — in whatever little way then can, years after graduation. That small building in the middle of the busy and bustling campus had left its lasting impression.

Today, there is an acute need of a Centre for Social Concerns in every university in the country. The HEC is very keen to ensure that every university has a Quality Enhancement Cell, or an Office for Research, Innovation and Commercialisation, but what about a place which enhances our ability as human beings? Shouldn’t that be our primary focus? What about our quality as human being? Our ability as human and society changers and innovators?

The world is changed very fast and the digital age has brought people even closer. But this connectedness has also made interaction human less. The people who used to see each other every now and then now text or WhatsApp each other, even the chance to hear each other’s voice through the telephone is diminishing.

Therefore, it is all the more important that we instil in our students — and in fact the general population — a sense of civil ownership and responsibility. Without such endeavours, we might become rich and developed, but would remain poor and underdeveloped as human beings.

Yaqoob Khan Bangash

Yaqoob Bangash
The writer teaches at the IT University in Lahore. He is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYK.

4 comments

  • Social values do not come with education. Japanese schools, the students don’t get any exams until they reach grade four ( the age of 10). Because the goal for the first 3 years of school is not to judge the child’s knowledge or learning, but to establish good manners and to develop their character! That is what our Scholars taught us. Manners before knowledge. Unlike schools in our Country where a child as young as 3/4 is loaded with books and homework. Personality of a child has developed by age o f 6 years. How many people make it to the college/university. In adolescence teaching students/ general population — a sense of civil ownership and responsibility is difficult.

  • This is a beautiful article. This is the need of all times for young people to involve is social service. The fields of activity available are innumerable. In our homeland there is poverty, ignorance, lack of education and of civic sense, bigotry, intolerance and the list is unending. Both at school level and colleges and universities and institutes of vocational learning, practical and planned social service by students may go a long way in promoting dignity of labour and of social service. This may be an effort tread setter and would create

    • This could be a trend setter for change in social outlook. It could teach us how to work in groups. In western countries, some Pakistani groups are also engaged in community work like cleaning streets on New Year Day, tree plantations, feeding the poor, visiting old homes, giving gifts to patients in hospitals etc. Such acts help both those engaged and those helped. This is our Muslim duty also to help the poor and the needy.

      • Parents could educate a child by being an example. ” Catch them young ” as the saying goes. Drop wrappers, empty bottles etc in the garbage bin and not around the house or on the road or shopping center. Stopping at the traffic signal. Learning to respect the adults.Wearing seat belts while riding in the car. Dignity of labor.Not shouting at the domestic help and ordering around the house. This is from personal example as a grand parent. A grandson 7 years of age telling you that you are not wearing the seat belt or you went through the red light or driving fast. Thanking the waiter in a restaurant.A Child is very respective, observant, and learning is fast, until the age of 6/7 years. The personality a child acquires up to this age Criminals are not born, they are made.

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