Students demand restoration of unions, better facilities
By Tanveer Abbas
Islamabad (TP) November 27, 2020: A large number of students, rights activists and supporters and people from various walks of life held a protest demonstration outside the National Press Club on Friday to present a charter of demands including the restoration of student unions and better education facilities.
The event was organized by an alliance of organizations under the banner of “Student Action Committee (SAC)” as part of coordinated ‘student solidarity marches’ in towns and cities across Pakistan.
The protesters — who were carrying banners and placards inscribed with slogans like “Hum kya chaahte? Azadi!” (What do we want? Freedom!), also demanded accountability of higher education administrations, the institutionalization of laws against sexual harassment and a commitment from the state to provide affordable education to all.
Speaking on the occasion, student leaders said that Pakistan was home to 130 million young people, and every government in recent memory had claimed that it was committed to securing the future for youth. However, they said, our education system, as well as larger economic and political structures are best ill-equipped to meet the needs of students, both while they are enrolled and after they graduate and join the workforce. “Almost 2 million young people join the workforce every year, and the demand for higher education is skyrocketing. But universities are becoming profit-making factories that care little for student’s rights, representation or what happens to them after they graduate,” they said.
The SAC leaders said that they believe the restoration of student unions was crucial to give young people a voice, ensure campus democracy, and address their many outstanding grievances.
According to them, the pandemic has simply exacerbated long-standing issues. For instance, they said, online classes were initiated even though many students from ethnic peripheries have no access to the internet and other infrastructure. “Students continued to be charged exorbitant amounts of fee despite substandard teaching and administrative arrangements. There are insufficient hostel facilities and transportation for all students that are admitted. In some cases, students are being expected to take classes and examinations in extremely dangerous conditions, exposing them to the second wave of COVID19,” the speakers said.
Meanwhile, the student leaders said that harassment of female students in hostels, offices, and classrooms has become pandemic, which should be done away with immediately.
They also demanded universal internet access, adequate accommodation, formation of sexual harassment committees on the campus, and an immediate end to ongoing physical exams and tests like MDCAT during the 2nd wave of coronavirus.
The SAC leaders also asserted that young people had been taught to distance themselves from politics, fully imbibing the logic of the Zia regime which outlawed student unions almost 40 years ago. “The only way to resolve issues on campus, and concerning the future of young people is by engaging in healthy political activism,” they maintained.
According to them, it is ultimately Pakistan’s youth who will face terminal issues like climate change, militarization, and structural economic problems. The student leaders noted that it was when the masses start to engage in such healthy and democratic forms of activism that college and university administrations would be forced to bring an end to policies of selective victimization, including punishments like rustication that destroy young people’s future. They said that today’s students would become tomorrow’s political leaders, adding “if we want to displace the war-makers and profiteers who rule us today, we must give students a chance to be politically active through institutionalized means.”