The University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in Lahore, recently issued a notice to all the cafeterias and canteens on campus to make arrangements for separate sitting of men and women with ‘suitable partition’. The notification added that ‘surprise visits’ will be conducted to ensure compliance.
Furthermore, the administration threatened the contractors of serious consequences, that if this did not happen, the area will be “sealed without any notice”
The notification stirred a storm on social media, particularly given UET’s repute as an institution of higher learning for people of all walks regardless of race, religion or gender. People labelled the move as ‘regressive’ and a product of a ‘Talibanized’ mentality that confines women indoors and objects to their social role at par with men.
#Talbanization of #UETLahore:
Male & female students banned from sitting together in cafeteria/Canteen of the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, by orders of the Vice chancellor۔ pic.twitter.com/zMgeFObWx0
— Faiz Siddiqui (@faiz_siddiqui1) September 8, 2019
Social media users equated UET with religious seminaries, which generally observe strict gender segregation and seek to enforce rigid gender roles in the society.
دارالعلوم مدرسہ حقانیہ انجینیئرنگ لاہور
Male & female students banned from sitting together in cafeteria/Canteen pic.twitter.com/U0QpPXC49o
— Faakhir Mehmood (@Faakhir_Mehmood) September 8, 2019
Darul uloom e engineering lahore. pic.twitter.com/UChbyQBh2G
— Awais Masood (@AwaisMasood) September 7, 2019
The issue made its way to the mainstream media eventually, with journalist Muzammil Suherwardy’s strongly worded piece for Daily Express, ‘The Talibanization of Punjab’.
Mr. Suhrwardy made the case that the university was leaning towards a more ‘radicalized mindset’, endemic of other institutions in Punjab. In his view, the ‘Talibanization’ of Punjab has intensified over the years. Pointing to the UET notification, he says we expect these future engineers to work together for the country’s progress, whom we even cannot see sharing a cup of tea. On one hand we are trying to mainstream madrassas, he says, but on the other hand, we are turning our universities to madrassas.
He also pointed out and condemned moral policing practices that equally pervade the society, public and private institutions and law enforcement agencies.
However, not all voices were against the notification. Many on social media were supportive as well.
My appreciation for UET Lahore management. pic.twitter.com/DgmRk00gg6
— Ansar Abbasi (@AnsarAAbbasi) September 9, 2019
Wow Really Dared Verdict By #UET_Lahore Campus.
University Has Banned Mixed gathering of male and females students in The campus.
It’s Venerable Adjudication and Should apply All the University and collages Across the Country..
My salutes to All the Achiever’s 👮 pic.twitter.com/IUPnIAUemd
— Muhammad Azam Khan (@FaqeereIqbal3) September 8, 2019
The uproar on social media finally forced the University administration to withdraw the notification. The university said the earlier notification was issued ‘without the approval of the Vice Chancellor’.
This is the latest episode of social media playing yet again an activist role in ground-level developments. It also reflects the concerns of netizens, who equate the rise in conservatism as a disturbing step towards radicalization and extremism in society.