Friday 6 December 2019
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Dawn News - 7 days ago

Student Solidarity March held countrywide to demand restoration of unions, better education facilities

Students, activists and supporters across Pakistan came out on Friday to join the Student Solidarity March, led by the Student Action Committee (SAC), to present a charter of demands including the restoration of student unions and better education facilities. In a series of tweets, the Progressive Students Collective (PSC) shared the final locations for the march taking place in 50 cities of Pakistan. While in some cities the march started in the morning, in others it was expected in the afternoon. Karachi Karachi demonstraters hold up a banner protesting oppression against students. — Photo by Tooba Masood The march kicked off early evening in Karachi, with students, parents, lawyers as well as prominent civil society members — such as Mohammad Hanif and Jibran Nasir — gathering at Regal Chowk and then marching on to Atrium Mall with the aim of reaching Karachi Press Club. As the demonstration started marching on Fatima Jinnah Road opposite Atrium Mall, shopkeepers started bringing down their shutters. The rally then reached Karachi Press Club where an estimated 400 participants gathered outside the premises, chanted slogans, and delivered speeches. Echoes of Hum kya chaahte? Aazaadi! (What do we want? Freedom!) resounded frequently in the area. Jibran Nasir, while speaking to the media, said: I have come to support our country s future. Students are our future. We must realise that our future will never be bright if we keep on lighting monuments of the past. Any real and new leadership that comes forth in the country, will not cross through the corridors of Aabpaara and Pindi. It will come from colleges and universities, said Nasir. The protest demonstration making its way through Saddar in Karachi. — Photo by Muhammad Ali A transgender student of medicine said she had come to protest the lack of safety for females and transgenders on campus. Females and transgender students are increasingly becoming unsafe on campuses. Throughout Pakistan, there are many professors who ask for irrelevant favours from them. The fees are so high. What are they trying to do? Do they think they will provoke us this way? Should girls get into illegal, unethical activities to obtain an education? she said, demanding answers from the government. Students from Balochistan also participated in the march in Karachi demanding the arrest of the vice-chancellor of Balochistan University for his alleged involvement in the harassment of the varsity s students. Additionally, students from Gilgit-Baltistan also took part to protest the lack of facilities to pursue higher education in the region. There is only one university in GB and it is substandard. We can t study there, so we moved to Karachi, said one participant. The city s students belonging to private universities said they are protesting because of the price hike, dress code and harassment on campus . The city s students held up placards protesting the rising tuition fees. — Photo by Muhammad Ali A woman, who had been active in student politics before student unions were banned, recalled how student activities had formed a crucial part of the political landscape. A woman recalling how student unions had formed a crucial part of society in the past. — Photo by Tooba Masood A student is part of [a country s] political struggle. Society has now been depoliticised. In Zia s time, we were the last political students. Our badges were taken away and restrictions on student unions were enforced. We have witnessed society s regression [since then]. We saw Mashal die. We saw Taliban attacks on universities. All this happened because students were depoliticised and the whole society was depoliticised. As a result, our society has witnessed a decline. So, political struggle is very necessary, she said. Hyderabad Students from Hyderabad also held a solidarity march in the city on the call of SAC. They held a protest sit-in outside the local press club. Speakers delivered speeches to emotionally charged students, calling for an end everywhere to the ban on student unions. A large number of students protested the ban on student unions in Hyderabad. — Photo by Umair Ali Lahore In Lahore, protesters gathered early afternoon at Nasser Bagh and began their march towards Punjab Assembly. Outside the Assembly building on The Mall at Chairing Cross square, a stage was prepared to offer speakers a platform to address the gathering. Marchers gather at Nasser Bagh in Lahore. — Photo by Imran Gabol A view of the demonstration outside Punjab Assembly. — Photo by Imran Gabol The student participants said they have 13 demands from the government. The turnout, as reported by LUMS Associate Professor of Sociology Nida Kirmani, was quite large. The protest concluded peacefully close to 8pm. Islamabad In Islamabad, protesters have gathered at D-Chowk, demanding that parliament restore student unions immediately. Quetta A protest rally against the ban on student unions in Balochistan University as well as other universities was also taken out in Quetta. Participants included members of various student organisations who gathered at Baldia Lawn and marched across various thoroughfares and back to the point of origin. Hundreds of people were estimated to have taken part in the rally, which was escorted across the various points by police officers. ![A police officer is seen escorting the protest rally in Quetta. — Screengrab from video footage by Ghalib Nihad](https://i.dawn.com/primary/2019/11/5de133dbeb9a5.jpg A view from Baldia Lawn where the protest participants listened to fiery speeches by civil society members. — Screengrab from video footage by Ghalib Nihad Peshawar In Peshawar students and civil society members held a protest rally from Peshawar Press Club to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. Scenes from the march in Peshawar showed a vibrant gathering sloganeering to the beat of a drum. Students live for the sake of truth, they chanted. Awami National Party KP President Aimal Wali Khan, took to Twitter to announce the party s support for the march. ANP supports #StudentsSolidarityMarch. Students must have the right to assemble and speak for their rights. I urge all members of Pakhtun Students Federation to actively take part in the march, he said. The protest dispersed peacefully after a few hours. PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also lent his support to marchers across the nation. In a tweet, he said: The PPP has always supported student unions. The restoration of student unions by SMBB was purposely undone to depoliticise society. Today students are marching in the #StudentSolidarityMarch for the restoration of unions, implementation of right to education, end to privatisation of public universities, implementation of sexual harassment legislation, right to student housing the demilitarisation of campuses. The spirit of activism and yearning for a peaceful democratic process from a new generation of students is truly inspiring. Read: Restoration of unions, other demands — students to take to the street in 50 cities tomorrow Earlier, the PSC and other organisations from all over Pakistan had formed the committee (SAC) at a national level to demand the revival of student unions and other issues. Representatives of student organisations from Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab are part of the SAC. Over the last three weeks, SAC office-bearers have conducted corner meetings in the public and private educational institutions to hold the march in their respective areas. They said the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had left students dejected and directionless and reduced the higher education budget to almost half, bringing Pakistan into the list of countries that spend very less on education. Read: Why the Student Solidarity March is being organised across the country The reason we are forced to do this on the roads is [because of] an affidavit that every student has to sign before they get admission. Basically there is no ban on student unions but, through certain orders, restrictions are imposed so students will not take part in politics or hold protests on campus, explained Haider Kaleem, a journalism graduate from Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, who is among those organising the event. Kaleem, who is also the organiser of the Progressive Students Federation (PRSF) and PSC — groups that advocate an open environment for students in order to promote critical thinking — had said that one of the several demands of the march s participants is to lift restrictions that bar students from forming unions. He said that the affidavit was also being challenged in the Lahore High Court but expressed little hope of the matter being resolved there. Exhausted all other means, driven to the streets : Students, others weigh in on motivation to march Political science student Waqas Aalam said he will march at around 3pm from Karachi s Regal Chowk to the press club. He told Dawn that there were 10 basic demands but every province or unit had added more to the list as per its needs. Ahead of the march, scores of Pakistani student leaders studying at international universities had also voiced their support for the march. Read: International students voice support for solidarity march In an open letter addressed to the government, students have come together under the banner of the Pakistan International Students Alliance and registered opposition to the current ban on student unions in Pakistan.


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