The ‘Student Solidarity March’ held on November 29, has stirred the status quo and jolted the power centres. The slogans and revolutionary songs chanted by marchers on this occasion still reverberate among the youth, and on social media. The march, perhaps, the largest student-led protest across Pakistan in recent times in which thousands of students participated and expressed their angst against the rotting education system, their aspirations and dreams for a society based on social justice, peace and equality. It also generated a heated debate on mainstream, electronic and social media as well as on streets.
The students were demanding their basic rights enshrined in and guaranteed by the Constitution. The foremost of the 10-point charter of demands was the revival of the student union.
The Prime Minister and his cabinet members and advisers acknowledged the genuine demands of the students and hinted positive response.
Sindh Government took the lead and announced categorically to lift ban on student unions. Sindh Chief Minister, Murad Ali Shah has directed the provincial legislature to start legislation in this regard.
The march was organized by the Student Action Committee (SAC), an umbrella of over two dozen progressive, secular and nationalist student bodies from Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Pakistan-administered Kashmir as well as Gilgit-Baltistan.
It was truly a representative body of the students of different ethnic backgrounds including Punjabi, Saraiki, Sindhi, Baloch, and Pashtun and from Karachi to Gilgit-Baltistan. The demands of student solidarity march were very loud and clear. All the students seemed very charged and determined whereas the march was full of red flags which also reflected in their slogans like
“Jab laal laal lehraye ga
Tou hosh thikany aye ga”
However, the next morning (Nov 30th), one of the participants of the march Alamgeer Khan Wazir was abducted by unknown persons from the Punjab university hostel. Alamgeer is a nephew of Ali Wazir, a parliamentarian from Waziristan and a BS student and a former chairperson of the Pakhtun Council of the Punjab University chapter. He had come to the university two days before the student march to collect his degree. He was produced before a sessions judge on Monday by the Civil Lines Police with a request to obtain 14 days physical remand. However, the judge rejected the police request and sent Alamgeer to jail on a 10-day judicial remand.
Besides, all those who supported the Student Solidarity March, or made speeches, including Iqbal Lala, father of Mashal Khan (a bright mind brutally killed after lynching by his fellow students on false blasphemy charges at the Khan Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan), Dr Ammar Ali Jan and others, were booked under sedition charges. However, the judge also granted them interim bail.
Now the question arises that why the people who are in power are so scared of the student power? Some elements dubbed the historic march as foreign-funded and a conspiracy. One may ask such elements what the RAW will gain from improving the education system of Pakistan as the students are raising their voice to improve the rotten education system of Pakistan. We may ask retrogressive forces what is wrong when we demand the revival of the student union, the reversal of fee hike and cut in the higher education budget? These anti-people decisions have been taken by the PTI government on the instructions of the imperialist powers’ financial institutions like IMF under their neoliberal agenda. The increase in fees will hit the students hard who belonging to the lower-middle-class families and will discontinue their studies.
Likewise, why the universities’ administrations have turned campuses into jails in the name of security? We are not allowed to visit our universities as we are considered terrorists. Our education system is in a shambles and when students raise their voice against it, they face sedition charges. Do such things happen in a civilized and democratic society? Is there any rule of law or can we trust anyone’s words?
What message is being given to young people who are the future leaders by our state authorities? We may ask what is the crime of Dr Ammar Ali Jan, the person who believes in non-violent politics within the ambit of the constitution.
To me, if Iqbal Lala and Dr Ammar Ali Jan are traitors, then the state should imprison all the students and labourers who were part of the student’s solidarity march. The people in the corridors of power must know that we cannot be intimidated and such oppressive tactics will not break our courage. We, the progressive students across Pakistan, demand the immediate release of Alamgeer Khan and the cancelation of sedition charges against Dr Ammar Ali Jan and others.
Asfand Yar is a student at the Forman Christian College Lahore studying psychology and education. He is a member of Sindhu Bachao Tarla, an organization of indigenous people In South Punjab.