Students set to march for their rights

Last year, the march had demanded that student unions be reinstated and relief be given to students belonging to minorities, and the lower economic strata.

The Student Action Committee has called nationwide demonstrations on November 29, which will be spearheaded by the Progressive Student Collective (PSC). The protest, which will take place in all major cities of the country including Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad and Quetta, has developed into a nationwide march. The march will see the participation of rights groups like Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement (HKM), the Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign, Pakistan Bhatta Mazdoor Union, Kissan Raabita Committee, Liberal Education Foundation along with other students and workers groups.

A press conference in this regard was held at the Lahore Press Club on November 24. The Student Solidarity March, as it is now known nationwide, will rally students and activists, who will demonstrate for their rights which have been denied by the state for a long time. Among the list of demands is uplifting the ban on student unions, undoing the cuts on educational budget, elimination of fee hikes and privatisation of education.

The students further demand that religious thuggery be eliminated from campuses and that peaceful, healthy and democratic environments be created across campuses nationwide. The students maintain that they want to be a part of the decision making process that decides their academic futures.

The upcoming Student Solidarity March further captured the media’s attention during the fifth Faiz International Festival, which was held in Lahore from November 15 to 17. A video featuring PSC’s Arooj Aurangzeb went viral on social media, in which she was seen chanting a verse of a revolutionary poem by Bismil Azimabadi.

The video of Arooj Aurangzeb, a graduate of Punjab University, sparked debate on leftist politics in Pakistan, eventually transforming her into a symbol of resistance and student rights over the past two weeks.

“There is open invitation to everyone to participate in our march on November 29. No one has a monopoly on the march, it is a march against monopolies and against cruelty. We have confirmation from 40 cities regarding participation in the march. Last year, we began from Lahore and now it has expanded to 40 cities,” she said.

Last year’s Student Solidarity March was the first collective rally organised in years, with students gathering in Lahore and Islamabad among eight major cities. The march had demanded that student unions be reinstated and relief be given to students belonging to minorities, and the lower economic strata. While the rally attracted a decent participation of students, this year a significantly higher turnout is expected.

“Those students who cannot organise should just do something with the colour red. Red is a colour we associate with revolution and with love – for the kind of life we want. It could be anything, a red cap, red dupatta, use red ink for writing in schools and colleges,” said Arooj Aurangzeb.

Among the causes that the Student Solidarity March is rallying for is the universities forcing students to sign affidavits against participation in political activities on the campus. A more controversial demand of the march organisers is against security forces’ involvement in campus activities, including the curbs on free speech witnessed across universities.

HKM’s Ammar Ali Jan was removed from his position as a professor at Punjab University earlier this year, and was briefly arrested as well, allegedly over his involvement in political protests.

“After a long time, we’re witnessing a movement featuring the youth. They are not affiliated with any political parties or local or foreign actors. This is an independent movement led by the youth, discussing the issues faced by the youth. Pakistan is fortunate that this has emerged at a time when there’s so much gloom and all dreams of ‘change’ have been shattered,” Ammar Ali Jan said.

“The government that came to power on the back of the youth’s vote, slashed the HEC [Higher Education Commission] budget from Rs 45 billion to Rs 30 billion. As a teacher let me tell you that our education system was already on the ventilator and is now heading towards its demise. This is when the youth are coming out to save the country and the educational system,” he added.

With the participation of other rights groups, including several workers and leftist groups, the Student Solidarity March is growing into a large-scale human rights movement in the country. And while the movement is led by the youth, veteran rights activists are happy to follow their lead.

“All leftists will be a part of the march. [The Student Solidarity March] will see a new chapter in the revolutionary history of Lahore. Those who mocked us asking ‘where is the left-wing’, please come on November 29 and we’ll show you how the left-wing is alive and striving for the red and the revolution!” said Farooq Tariq, the Convener of the Lahore Left Front Farooq and Editor of the left-wing online Urdu publication Jeddojehad.

KK Shahid is a Lahore-based reporter and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-Asia network of grassroots reporters

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