Students march for their rights
Amid the beat of a drum and a dafli, students and civil society activists marched from the Arts Council roundabout to the Karachi Press Club on Friday evening to demand equality in the education system, implementation of an order for the restoration of student unions and many fundamental rights for students in different educational sectors.
The student march happened simultaneously in Lahore, Islamabad, Gilgit and other cities and was planned by Progressive Students Collective in Lahore. Later, the Progressive Students Federation (PRSF) alongside other organisations also joined the movement to hold the march in their respective cities.
The students raised slogans against the practice of raising fees every semester or every year in schools, colleges and universities under the pretext of inflation. They also demanded free transport and called out the disparity between private and public educational institutions with regards to the quality of education and infrastructure.
Representing the PRSF, Muneeba Hafeez, who is pursuing a BEd programme, said the march reiterated the importance of student unions because, without them, students could not solve their problems. She added that the problems ranging from hostels, transport, fee hikes, harassment and curbs on freedom of speech and research would be discussed and resolved if students knew and fought for their rights by organising themselves.
“Educational institutions are a platform for youth to understand the importance of politics, which later helps them grasp the knowledge about systems governing the state. How can we expect them to make informed decisions when students are deliberately pulled away from politics and the only face of politics they know has been demonised by the state?” she stressed.
Shahana Rajani, who is an artist and an academic, said that in the recent years, surveillance at universities had increased drastically. “It appears that the shadow of state has increasingly tightened its grip on campuses to carry out more vigilant regulation and policing of students and teachers. All of us who have a stake in these spaces need to work together to find ways to resist, to take back our freedom to write, speak, research and question without fear of retribution,” she said.
Shumaila Shahani, a lawyer by profession, stressed that it had been a decade since the restoration of democracy in the country, but the restoration of student unions was deliberately being ignored.
“I am supporting this march to emphasise the importance of student unions in the country because a democracy cannot function without them and I strongly feel that these unions would play a major role in the establishment of harassment committees at various institutions,” she explained.
Currently a student at KU, Shafa Rashid felt that there was an urgent need to speak about the education sector with regards to gender bias because there were too many citizens who did not send their daughters to school with their sons due to finances.
“I feel free education which is the basic right for all needs to be implemented because it would give better opportunities to those who are left behind due to their class and gender,” she said. She also felt that a proper harassment committee must be formed at the KU, which would not just solve such cases but was approachable enough for students to put forward their grievances and complaints because there was not any system in place for that.
A theatre was also performed after the march, which showed how students needed to get organised to fight for their rights and how empathy for others was vital to understand the politics of agitation and its merits. Apart from the PRSF, students of the SM Law College and members of Aurat Haq, Girls at Dhabas, NSF (GB) and PSF also participated.