For the first time in decades, student political activity has steadily risen to the point where students across the nation organize various forms of protest to get the government listening to their demands. Student unions have been banned in the country since 1984, the dark era of General Zia’s regime who has left a greasy, festering imprint on political activity of which the consequences remain obvious and in place today.
Student Unions have played a large role in politics worldwide. Before partition, students had an active role in the Pakistan movement. Currently, prime example being the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University or JNU in India, where student political activity has maintained a strong and healthy front against oppressive forces. As of right now, they are protesting against the hostel fee hikes, as well as the implementation of unfair dress code and curfew timings on the student.
Some recent examples of student activity in Pakistan would be the protest of Punjab University (PU) students against the actions of the Jamiat who were involved in harassing students as well the students of Balochistan who led protests against their vice chancellor who was accused of being a part of a group that recorded female students in the restrooms and blackmailed them.
It is crucial for a country to have a politically active and motivated youth who can influence representatives and ask the right questions in parliament as well as hold democratic student union elections. Fortunately, it seems as if our politicians do perhaps care about student representation as was obvious when the resolution to pass the bill to lift the ban on student unions was unanimously passed by the Sindh Assembly.
The Student Solidarity March will take place on the 29th of November under the ambit of the Student Action Committee which was formed by the collaboration of over 20 student organizations in Pakistan. Led by the Progressive Students Collective in Lahore, many of these young activists were present at the Faiz Fest, which paid tribute to one of the nation’s most famous and accomplished poets, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and continued his legacy through protesting against the oppressive regime we have been faced with.
One of the first demands of the march is “The provision of quality education as per modern standards in all institutions.” We are aware of the fact that Pakistani curriculum is terribly outdated and can no longer compete in the international education system compared to which ours seems archaic and useless. It is the right of all citizens to gain equal education and the duty of the state to provide it. Unfortunately, the state has not provided this right to its citizens due to which we suffer in inequality and poverty.
The second demand is the eradication of profiling students according to race, religion and gender. Religious, gender based and racial stratification is all too real in our institutions, especially when students from KPK, Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit etc. seek admission in universities. When a part of these universities they face discrimination on these grounds which inhibits them from reaching their true potential and adds onto the stress they already face due to these identities.
The demand to withdraw the fee hike and restore the budget to the Higher Education Commission is undoubtedly crucial to the way academic institutions work. Students, especially those from less affluent financial backgrounds should not have to be concerned about the completion of their degrees due to these fee hikes. Additionally, students are not standing by as almost the entire budget is being eaten up by the militia instead of it being spent on education, development and healthcare. Many students depend on scholarships and grants which are being cut down as well.
Sexual harassment is something women have to face on the street which is why it isn’t really surprising that these practices invade campuses too, where there are as little legal consequences as there are in our actual laws. Campuses should be a safe space for students to enrich themselves and learn, not fear being harassed and blackmailed, which is why the demand for a legal committee with student representation on it is necessary. Alongside this, they aim to have the same curfew timings for everyone regardless of their gender, although the concept of curfew is problematic in itself, unfair curfews like 6 PM for women and none for men are absurd.
Last but not the least, the ban on student unions must be lifted so the field is open for students to involve themselves in healthy political activities and discourse without fear of state intervention and backlash.