The downfall of Bahria University: From a prestigious institute to the “six-inch university”

Published: May 27, 2018
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What Bahria University did is nothing new in the spectrum, but it is the latest contribution to the already alarming moral policing culture that exists in the country. PHOTO: GOOGLE MAPS

“Men and women are to maintain a distance of at least six inches while sitting/standing together.”

Imagine reading this somewhere, or hearing about it. What would your first reaction be?

Perhaps something like,

“Oh my God! The Taliban are back! They must have started enforcing their version of Shariah, and are probably planning to bring the days of terror back to the country!”

If so, relax! This notice wasn’t issued by those fanatics, but by a renowned semi-government university, and is applicable only within its premises.

It all began when a notice was issued by Bahria University’s (BU) director, requiring male and female students to keep a six-inch distance when sitting or standing near each other. This is not even the worst part though, as the notice also called to enforce a “no touch” policy between male and female students.

This is not the first time my alma mater has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. There was a jeans controversy a few years ago, where wearing jeans was prohibited in the Bahria prison… I mean university. Deeming this ban to be unfair, scores of students gathered in the campus lobby to protest this policy, chanting “we want jeans”. The ban was ultimately withdrawn with a few new restrictions, but not before the totalitarian regime running the university had kicked the instigators out.

None of this moral policing is unfortunately new in Pakistani institutions as there have been numerous other cases. For instance, a female lecturer at the Institute of Business Management (IoBM) in Karachi came forward last year after being harassed by the university guard over what was perceived as indecent dressing by him.

Abrasive moral policing is routinely carried out in large public sector universities such as the Punjab University and Karachi University as well, where radical student unions are also accused of bullying students into submitting to their ideas of morality. The National University of Science and Technology (NUST) too has made headlines in the past for reinforcing a certain dress code on its students, contrary to their will.

Thus, what Bahria University did is not a new addition to the spectrum, but is the latest contribution to the already alarming moral policing culture that exists in the country. This time around, it seems the university has completed its transition to a madrassa, for that is what the university comes across as, rather than a modern-day higher education institute. No other institution comes close to having adopted a rule this regressive and medieval in nature, which is precisely why it was immediately picked up by the mainstream media.

I contacted the public relations department of the university to get their narrative, but they had no comment to make. However, a spokesperson did give a feeble rationale for the move to the media, claiming it was to ensure the protection of religious and ethical values. The question of how they plan on achieving that by ordering a six-inch distance remains unanswered. After all, why not 10 inches? Or a mile?

Moreover, are the students supposed to carry a measuring tape with them at all times, just to measure the distance they keep with the opposite gender, instead of focusing on their studies?

Perhaps the notice could have entailed, ‘male and female students must respect religious and cultural values at all times’; the intention could have been articulately conveyed in a much more appropriate manner, and there would be no outcry.

On the other hand, enforcing this ridiculous policy seems to be the work of some narrow-minded moral police who clearly do not know what they are doing. It is almost as if the director of Bahria wasn’t entirely satisfied with the already heightened levels of intrusion in students’ personal spaces in the university.

Universities cannot operate under such draconian measures. How will these students fare as per global standards, especially when it comes to interaction with people from diverse ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, when they have been indoctrinated through ridiculous rules based on gender segregation?

Such rules hamper creativity and pave way for batches upon batches of students devoid of free thought, exposure, unable to thrive in the rapidly changing dynamic of a world shaped by science and technology. Students also find themselves unable to work in challenging situations, to think out of the box and be good problem solvers, all owing to the excessively controlled environment they just spent four years in.

What’s more alarming is that this absurd policy has dragged the university’s name down the dirt, popularising it as the “six-inch university”. After getting labelled as students of the ‘six-inch university’, who would hire these students? What will happen to their career placements?

I reached out to several of my instructors for their thoughts on this matter, and though they wished to remain anonymous, they certainly had a lot to say. An assistant professor bashed the director and blamed him for defaming the university’s name. He suggested that this typical mindset represented by former Navy personnel hired to run the institute is simply not compatible with the environment of a contemporary higher education institution. According to him, this is why policies that are entirely uncharacteristic of progressive academic culture are being created and implemented.

A visiting lecturer of finance was also critical of the management, and believed the matter should be rectified before it gets picked up by the international media, which definitely would not be in the university’s best interests.

So, what exactly is wrong with Bahria University? Or does the fault lie with the people who are running it? Having spent four years at the university, I have witnessed the authoritarian attitude of the administration first-hand, which is reflected in the fascist policies and rules implemented in the name of discipline.

Another problem is the current administration has no marvels to show for its tenure, nor has it taken any measures to improve academics, which reflects in the fact that there has been no improvement in the university’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) rankings either. Today, it ranks below the relatively unknown Hazara University and Jamshoro University. Instead of doing something about the deteriorating quality of education of the institute, the administration may have made this move simply to deflect attention from its poor performance.

The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) demanded Bahria to withdraw the notification. The representatives of FAPUASA were right on the button when they said,

“It gives an impression that Pakistani universities are busy in everything except academics.”

However, given the adamant attitude of the university’s representative and the rigid nature of the brass running the institution, it is highly unlikely the university will withdraw the notice.

The six-inch rule is the product of rigid, narrow-minded individuals who have no experience in running educational institutions, but opted to run a higher education institute. If the administration of an institute is unqualified or incapable of understanding what it takes to run a good university and shape the leaders of the future, all they end up making is a mockery out of our education system.

Ahsan Zafeer

Ahsan Zafeer

The author is interested in politics, social issues and sports. He has a passion for writing and believes that issues can be resolved through discussion. He tweets as @AhsanZafeer (twitter.com/AhsanZafeer)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sohaib

    To me this is not a topic for discussion at all. The people who drag this topic including the author do not have any idea about the social values in our society. I suggest that the topic should be closed for discussion.Recommend

  • shafiq ahmad

    does six inches rule is the cause of downfall. no way where is the faculty and research and alumni there are so many factors for the progress and downfall.Recommend

  • Syed

    Ahsan zafeer, slavery is not simply chained feet but the mind could be stamped by modernism. Rediculling distance between two genders is a sad signs , 6 inch is only a simily. It’s not return of Taliban.Recommend

  • Ayesha Umar

    Well, universities in Pakistan are not alone in moral policing. Here in US and Canada schools we have “fingertip rule” when it comes to female dress code in school.Recommend

  • free after death

    I studied from NUST EME and there was once the commandant of the university once passing by charged students with 5000 Rs fine for sitting late together outside the cafetaria for assignments. How sick it can get ?Recommend

  • SamSal

    Bahria University was once a ‘prestigious’ university?! Now, that’s brand new information!Recommend

  • Sharmeen

    Mister where are you living, in Sydney or in Puerto Rico? Seems that you are quite away from the religious values and morals that make one’s character better in this society. I feel there is nothing wrong while making these rules, we should abide by these rules even though it’s some month other than Ramadan. The original name of Pakistan is Islamic Republic of Pakistan which makes us responsible for every little wrong to every big trouble, by calling these rules as talibanized-versions or modern society hampering rules you are just making it worse. Freedom of expression is one of the greatest values but this must be within the boundaries of respect for the religious beliefs and cultural sensitivities of others.Eisenhower once said, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both”.
    Let’s not forget what our great leader Allama Iqbal quoted once, “People who have no hold over their process of thinking are likely to be ruined by liberty of thoughts”.
    So by forgetting your own cultural values, you are not doing any good to the nation.Recommend

  • Naseer

    Your conservative mindset is so blind it worries me how many people are out there who think just like you. First of all it’s a university for both sexes, if you want to follow your version of religion so much it’s best if you opt for an all girls and all boys institute in the first place. Secondly, why do you think if people of the opposite sex are closer than 6 inches then they’re going against Islam or doing something indecent. Just because you’re prudish it doesn’t mean it equates to pda or something sacrilegiousRecommend

  • Zaheer

    Are we the Islamic state of Pakistan, means the couple situations and their drug eddictionsituation in bahria university is Known to every one. Hence rule is not wrong according to situationRecommend

  • Abraham Punpernickel

    Whether this rule is ridiculous or not can be left to your interpretation. But one thing it doesnt have an affect on is the standard of education or its faculty. You bunched 2 unrelated issues into one. Recommend

  • Student of Bahria

    the decision by university is a laughing stock, childish , stupid, absurd, impractical. call it whatever you want.
    but return of talibans, and talibanization. that is way too much man
    thora halka hath rakhoRecommend

  • Muhammad

    It should be five inches based on national averageRecommend

  • Musha Khan

    A good piece of work & well (social media) researched. :) Yes of course, university is not place where you go to learn your religious and ethical values, (please ask your parents to teach them if someone has issue with my second line). I don’t know why our state and institutions always try to become a Baap (father) of us (nation). I think this is the time to tell them “hey! just do your job properly, i know what is right & what is wrong”.
    Recommend

  • vinsin

    So is it a cultural value or a arabic value or a religious edict, first get clear what do you want to say? What are your principles? What do you mean by process of thinking? Are you opposing or supporting?Recommend

  • Sharmeen

    Why do you think that following your religious guidelines would make you a conservative fool? Sympathies.Recommend

  • bashir gul

    BU wants to be in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Improve the quality of education first.Recommend

  • Fahad Yousuf

    @Author! U r absolutely right. I think now I would also have to hide my identity about being former student of BU. At our time, there was uniform for both male and female students but there were no such rubbish policy-making. It all started in 2005-06 when a whole bunch of molvees were appointed as teachers. It was looking very awkward when u r going for the first time into the classes of Adv. Algorithms or Operating Systems and a teacher is standing with long beard and a turban on head, with loose and casual shalwar-qameez and shalwar is too short that it more looks like Shalwar Capri.

    While talking to girls, the teacher is not making any eye-contact and staring into the ceilings.

    This all resulted because these naval person having no knowledge of educational culture are appointed in key-positions of policy making, its also a point to think for those who think military dictatorship is the best option for running the country.Recommend

  • Despicable Dude

    This reminds me of the viral video of a kid “ankhon main dekhunga to pyaar ho jaye ga”Recommend

  • Muhammad Moaazam

    I like that decision of the bahria university some people of liberal mind may have problem with that but its really according to our culture the people wants to live in westron culture they should live in west. the people of this kind are trying to spoil our culture and our idealogy by providing ridiculous reason but no reason is above the Allah’s order.Recommend

  • Green O Green

    I hate to say that this author seems a bit off the mark. Is he aware what happened at Cornell where a student was presenting her thesis work only to be told by her female professor about her inappropriate clothing by academic or professional standards at least? Who are we to pass a declaration of Talibanization when this incident occurred at a place no other than Cornell? Now coming back to Bahria: Are we suffering from comparison syndrome or what to determine our moral values by chiding anything that goes against our be-all and end-all arrogant mind? What will you say about fashion police, blue lights on campus, and anti-harassment policies? Unfortunately, they don’t exist on our campuses. Anything goes unpleasant has no redress except to slum it. The sad thing is despite everyone knows Educational places are not meant for gadfly activities that are carried on in the name of assignments. Parents do have expectations from academic authorities in providing a safe and conducive learning environment. Students sometimes get emotional when disciplined but they should look beyond that level and later in their lives will realize the importance of such disciplining.Recommend

  • Samar Rizvi

    Keeping a reasonable distance and maintaining a dress code is not Talibanization at all. Both advises are clearly mentioned in Quran.

    Regularizing and maintaining moral disciplines is in every society and religion.
    Why there is so much hue and cry???

    Those who wish to indulge beyond this can do so out of uni boundaries…… whats a big deal for them in this???Recommend

  • Sane sid

    No Doubt Bollywood is so popular there…..Recommend

  • Sana Khan

    One Inch more to be on the safe side but they didn’t think about outliers. How to keep check and control on outliers is the BIG question for Administration?Recommend

  • Sane sid

    Social Values in Pakistani Society – where a sixty year old marries a 16 yr old girl by force….. Rape is ordered by a jigra……Recommend

  • Hasan

    Bahria was never a “prestigious” university, just another business venture. In 2000 its director was silently fired, for sexually harassing & preying on the undergraduate female students. With that mentality what else do we expect but for this administration to take Pakistan back to the archaic ages.Recommend

  • Shafiq Ahmad

    good sbRecommend

  • Mustafa Fazal

    Excellent
    The best comment ever i have read on this issue
    Recommend

  • Muhammad

    So that was the “huge issue” with Bahria University going from a “Prestigious Institute” to the “Six Inch” University. Recommend

  • ali khan

    the students in university are older than 18 years. they are adults the point should be that they should be allowed to make their own decisions and not be forced and have morality thrust upon them. what is between them and their god and their beliefs should be allowed for their own judgement. The same way a woman wearing a Hijab should not be bothered the same way a woman wearing jeans and a shirt shouldn’t either.
    As far as the 6 inch rule goes. would it not cause alot of issues in studies. where students would constantly be worried about getting too close to someone if they are working on projects? i feel the right notification should be that people should respect each others personal space and not cross that. which may be 1 inch for someone or the whole bench for someone else. but taking away the students right to think and apply their own morals makes them lose a valuable skill in life and makes them into zombies that have no own beliefs and understanding of their own moralsRecommend

  • https://sour-ramblings.blogspot.com Umair Ahmed

    Sorry sir but Pakistani society is not the ideal Islamic society, you are dreaming of.Recommend