IN a society where everyone is not equal before the law, or equally significant in terms of political considerations, certain people get to exercise their right to protest while others are summarily deprived of it. Wednesday saw yet another instance of the authorities’ high-handedness towards the latter segment of the populace. A large crowd of some 250 college professors and lecturers from across Sindh was roughed up by the police outside the Chief Minister House in Karachi while they were staging a sit-in to demand what they claim are long promised time-scale-based promotions. Around 50 teachers, including women, were bundled into police vans and carted off to various police stations. The Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association representing the protesters announced a province-wide suspension of academic activities the following day to denounce the police action.
Heavy-handed tactics such as those displayed on Wednesday show a lack of maturity on the part of officialdom. Peaceful protests are part and parcel of a democracy, and a state must be able to handle them without resorting to unnecessary force or any action calculated to humiliate citizens agitating for their rights. That is also why timely negotiations with an aggrieved party are so critical to defuse a potentially combustible situation. One would expect the Sindh government to know this well, led as it is by a party with a long history of struggling against oppression. It is reasonable to assume that coming out on the streets is not the preferred option for most people, and by all accounts college teachers have been driven to this point by government apathy towards resolving their legitimate demands. Such official indifference has been the impetus for a number of protests, not only in Sindh but also elsewhere in the country — Lady Health Workers demanding their services be regularised, the visually impaired asking that the employment quota for the handicapped be implemented, and so on. Very often, protests have been met with police brutality, which only reinforces the people’s alienation from the state.
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2019