ISLAMABAD: Students, members of civil society and political workers on Friday called for restoration of student unions in educational institutions of the country.

Scores of protesters gathered outside National Press Club and also demanded an increase in the education budget and immediate end to increase in tuition fees.

The protesters also called for access to internet for students from Balochistan, former Fata, Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and the formation of sexual harassment committees to investigate cases of harassment by college and university staff and teachers.

“We demand immediate restoration of student unions to provide a platform to students to register their voice,” said Tariq Ghouri, a protester.

In a joint statement, Women Democratic Front (WDF) President Ismat Shahjahan and General Secretary Alia Bakhshal, who were among the organisers of the protest, said parliamentary political parties remain uninterested in serving young people and addressing their problems.

“They [political parties] are only interested in the youth insofar as they can help those in power further their imperialist, capitalist and patriarchal interests. They also want the youth to remain depoliticised so that they cannot effectively organise for their rights,” the statement said.

“Following the passage of the 18th Amendment, provinces are in a position to restore student unions,” said Ismat Shahjahan.

“We demand that they exercise this right immediately. Only then will we see the emergence of any meaningful democratic reform in the country,” she said.

Alia Bakhshal demanded that the Pakistan Democratic Movement includes restoration of student unions in its charter.

“It is time Pakistan allows young people the chance to play a constructive and meaningful role in building their own and the country’s future,” she said.

“Any democratic movement that isn’t serious about addressing the rights of students is not serious about the country’s future or about democracy.”

WDF Secretary Information Tooba Syed said as a socialist and feminist organisation WDF endorses the demands of the student union restoration march and is committed to working alongside student groups and organisations in this fight.

“The WDF salutes the efforts of student groups who have managed to successfully organise in these difficult times. We invite all progressive forces to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their struggle for rights and a brighter future,” she said.

Students have been demanding restoration of unions since long but the issue remains unresolved.

In 2017, the Senate adopted a resolution calling for restoration of student unions. The ban was imposed on student unions during the regime of Gen Zia.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2020

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