LAHORE: Thousands of students from public and private institutions on Friday participated in the ‘Student Solidarity March’ demanding the restoration of student unions and better facilities for students.

Political and civil society activists, feminists, transgenders and teachers also joined the march which started from Nasser Bagh at around 12pm and culminated at Charring Cross at 3pm. They kept on singing revolutionary songs besides chanting slogans and waving placards, banners and panaflexs inscribed with slogans for the revival of student unions. The oft-chanted slogan was ‘Hum kya chaahte, Aazaadi” (What do we want? Freedom!).

The march was led by the Student Action Committee (SAC) and participated by the Progressive Student Collective (PSC), Baloch Council, Seraiki Council, Pakhtun Council, Gilgit-Baltistan students, Kashmiris, Revolutionary Students, Baloch Student Organisation and Peoples Students Federation. PPP-SB chairperson Ghinwa Bhutto and Iqbal Lala, father of student activist Mishaal, who was killed in a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa university, remained the centre of attraction in the march.

Seraiki Council Chairman Amir Qaiserani said that having unions was a constitutional right of students which the state snatched from them 35 years or so. He said millions of students in the country had no forum to discuss their issues. “The administrations of educational institutions take one-sided decisions such increase in fee and rustication and expulsion from the institute,” he said.

SAC spokesperson Mohiba Ahmed said students were rising to demand their democratic right. “I demand that all those people who are sitting in their lavish houses and claiming to support the students come to roads to show their support,” she said. She said the state was dividing masses and students in the name of religion, sect and ethnicity bases.

“Come and see, we the students have rejected state’s narrative of division and every nationalist, including Seraiki, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pukhtun and Baloch, are participating in the march in their areas,” she said.

SAC convener Muzzamil Khan said problems of students could not be solved without the restoration of student unions.PSC’s Zahid Ali chanted slogans outside the Punjab Assembly ‘Hum bhi sawal hain, Hum bhi Mishaal hain’.

The march demanded restoration of budget for the Higher Education Commission, end to the layoff of academics, allocation of five percent of the GDP for education, nationalisation of educational institutions and withdrawal of the recent fee hike.

The students also demanded the establishment of committees in all the educational institutes to investigate cases of sexual harassment as well as ensuring representation of students on these committees. The demands include the removal of offices of security forces from campuses, end to undue checking and expulsion from universities. The SAC later held a press conference which was attended by Haider Butt, Sibit-e-Hassan, Asad Baloch and Raza Gilani.

They said that three months were given to the government to revive student unions otherwise they would approach court; they would hold meetings with heads of political parties to submit resolution in support student unions and also organise meeting in educational institutions.

They said if the government did not accept their demands, they could give a strike call and march on Islamabad.

SUPPORT: Political leaders supported the revival of the student unions on the march day.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tweeted “The PPP has always supported student unions. The restoration of student unions by SMBB was purposely undone to depoliticize society. Today students are marching in the #StudentSolidarityMarch for the restoration of unions, implementation of right to education, end to privatization of public universities, implementation of sexual harassment legislation, right to student housing & the demilitarization of campuses. The spirit of activism and yearning for peaceful democratic process from a new generation of students is truly inspiring.” Federal Minister for Science and Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain also fully supported restoration of student unions.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2019