Marching for rights: Why are students rallying during a pandemic?
Student activism has a very strong impact on society and its political structure. It has been observed worldwide that students have a major role in mass movements and social reformation. In Pakistan, the interference of students in politics and social activism has always been a threat for authorities as it is always negatively portrayed in educational institutes. An impression has also been created which has made ‘political struggle’ a controversial term for most of the students and obviously, a harmful game to play.
The student politics in Pakistan has been facing difficulties since 1980s after the imposition of ban on student unions by the military government of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Meanwhile the mainstream political parties have retained their presence in campuses in the shape of student wings. But the formal participation of students in the decision-making process of the educational institutes has remained vague and debated.
However Article 17 of the constitution of Pakistan assures its citizen to have the right to form associations or unions. It is necessary for the government of Pakistan to ensure the restoration of student unions which is also very important for the progress of democracy in the country. Student union is a governing body of representatives in public institutions elected by students among themselves whose major purpose is to promote and represent the general interest of students.
It was not before November 2018, when the demand for the revival of student unions gained more attention after ‘Students solidarity March’ was announced by progressive student organizations under the banner of Student Action Committee demanding the restoration of student unions, increase in educational budget, strict policies against the growing cases of sexual harassment in campuses. The participants also expressed their concerns against the presence of paramilitary forces in the educational institutes. The new wave of student activism also caused an uproar on social media. In 2019 March was organized again in 50 different cities of Pakistan including major cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.
Banned in 1984 under Zia’s rule, the student unions again became an issue for governments when in December 2019, Sindh Government passed a bill regarding the restoration of student union across the province. But unfortunately once again no potential efforts have been made to hold elections in the campuses.
The pandemic-driven year of 2020 has added more woes in students’ struggle for better facilities. Online education and hikes in tuition fees have become a major obstacle for many students to further continue their education. Most of them are from tribal areas of Balochistan and Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KPK and former FATA). In these remote areas there are no proper faculties of higher Education and internet which force the local youth to settle in more developed cities for education but considering lockdown situation, they are left with no choice but to raise their voices against unfair decisions taken by the universities administration.
Hence the student organizations again felt the necessity of ‘Student Solidarity March’ which was participated by comparatively less audience on November 27 (due to the second wave of Covid-19 in the country). “This is just an initial stage which is about organizing students from all over Pakistan on one platform,”said Adil Aziz, an activists of Progressive Youth Alliance from Karachi. He further added that only rightwing student organizations were allowed to operate by the state while the actual ban was imposed on leftwing politics.
“I do not belong to any student organization but I am amazed that after three consecutive tenures of democratically elected governments, the issue of the restoration of student unions is still not resolved,” remarks by a student of Karachi University who was participating in the rally outside Karachi Press Club. The demands of the participating students also included the suspension of online classes which could not be justified for poor students unless provided with better alternates.
The third show of the Students Solidarity March was also witnessed in different cities of Pakistan.
In almost every developed country there are student unions for the universities and other educational institutions but unlike India and Pakistan they are not politicized or influenced by politics. It is the duty of the governments to act wisely and sincerely for the betterment of our education system and for this purpose they have to focus on the demands forwarded by the students for past three years whether they are from Bolan Medical University, University of Karachi, Islamia College Peshawar or anywhere else in Pakistan.