Students across Pakistan are protesting with a demand for lifting the ban and hold elections for student unions in all colleges and universities of the country. General Zia ul Haq, a military dictator who attempted to Islamize the polity, banded students’ unions and snatched the lawful right to assemble from the young men and women.
This is the (incomplete) list of cities where the #StudentsSolidarityMarch is taking place tomorrow. Nothing in recent history has united so many districts across Pakistan and its admnistered areas.
The youth is united to demand a just future. pic.twitter.com/337yDDdQRQ
— Ammar Ali Jan (@ammaralijan) November 28, 2019
Now young university students initiated the campaign from Lahore which, with the help of public intellectuals and civil society, spread over across the country. Student’ leaders demanded the present government take immediate steps in order to show its seriousness in upgrading the polarized and class-based education system of Pakistan.
We don't grow when thing's are easy .
We grow when we have face challenges.. pic.twitter.com/55M77MTnvE
— Shoaib Khan Afridi (@shoaibk90759873) November 28, 2019
Progressive Students’ Collective and Progressive Students’ Federation are jointly working to make the protest successful. Haider Kaleem, one of the organizers, says that “the Students Solidarity March is very important”.
What are Students Demanding?
The Students’ Solidarity March insists that the government must ensure the following:
- Lift the ban and hold elections for student unions.
- Abandon privatization of educational institutes, and reverse a recent decision of school and college fee hike.
- The state should pledge free education for all.
- No more budget cuts for the Higher Education Commission, or sacking of educational staff.
- At least five percent of the GDP should be allocated for education.
- Abolish the semester system.
- Lift a ban on students from participating in political activities.
- End the intervention (in the name of national security) of security forces in educational institutions, and release all students held captive.
- Establish committees to investigate incidents of sexual harassment, and ensure women are made a part of the setup.
- All universities should have a library, hostel and provide transport and an internet connection.
- Modernize education systems according to the modern scientific requirements.
- Set up schools and colleges in lesser developed areas, and increase the quota of students coming from outside main cities.
- Establish research centers for a transition from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy in public sector universities.
- Announce April 13 as a national holiday to honor, Mashal Khan (a student at Bacha Khan university who was killed by his classmates under the false pretexts of blasphemy).
Students’ Right to Unionize
Gen. Zia ul Haq captured political power after ousting the elected prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Historians objectively agree that the military dictator was afraid of fresh ideas which would have challenged his rule therefore, he put a ban on the student unions. It helped him selectively Islamize Pakistani society to seek legitimacy for his unconstitutional and illegal actions.
After Zia, no efforts were made to ensure the revival of student unions which would have helped Pakistan to generate well-informed public discourse on democracy. PPP (2008-2013) promised to pass a bill in his regard but the promise was never materialized.
Dr. Ammar Ali Jan, Assistant Professor of Political Science at FC College, Lahore, pointed out that the political parties happily use students when it comes to their politics but refuse to help the same students when they start demanding their rights.
Imtiaz Alam, a senior journalist, opines that “in a country that does not prioritize education, yet simultaneously sets its hopes on the future dividends of a ‘youth bulge’, students are resisting becoming a wasted generation, and demanding their rightful place in an otherwise failed system, including the rights to question, exercise free speech and unionise.”
Several district bar associations and Dr. Salman Haseeb, General Secretary of Young Doctor’s Association in Punjab, announces support for the #StudentsSolidarityMarch on the 29th of November.
Dr. Salman Haseeb, General Secretary of Young Doctor's Association in Punjab, announces support for the #StudentsSolidarityMarch on the 29th of November.
— Ammar Ali Jan (@ammaralijan) November 28, 2019
Some senior politicians also stood up for the students and defending their right to lawful assemble at the campuses.
The younger generation isn’t going to put up with squandering of resources on non productive expenditure by elites in the name of security. Saving public education system should be the top priority of those who honestly stand with youth & human security.#StudentsSolidarityMarch
— Afrasiab Khattak (@a_siab) November 28, 2019
It is also worth noting that some of the most well-known personalities in politics, literature, and art were once part of student unions when they were allowed. Namely, Ijaz Shafi Gilani, the head of Gallup Pakistan, President Arif Alvi, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and poetess Zakia Ghazal, amongst others.