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I Have Been Criticised For Being Non-Elite, Student Activist Responds to Criticism

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In an exclusive interview with Naya Daur, student activists Arooj Aurangzeb and Mohsin Abdali from the Progressive Students Collective talked about their recent mobilisation during the Faiz Festival and the reasons and plans regarding the upcoming student solidarity march.

During the recently held Faiz International Festival, Arooj’s video of her passionately singing poetry and raising slogans to the beat of a drum went viral.

On criticism of being members of the elite

Many people had raised the criticism that the activists, who were raising slogans for equality, seemed to be part of the elite.

On the question of being part of the elite, Mohsin dispelled the notion that they were ‘burgers’ or part of the ‘bourgeois’, as 80 percent of the people in his organisation were from the peripheries, adding that people should look at their demands and struggle instead of focusing on what they were wearing.

Answering the question, Arooj rejected the idea that she was part of the elite, narrating how she used to survive on Rs3000 per month while she was in university and how, when she worked at an educational institution, she was criticised for being ‘non-elite’ and for not looking the part. She added that people should focus on the problems they were struggling against instead of focusing on these things.

In response to a question about whether people actually had a problem with women raising revolutionary slogans, Arooj said women’s voices were suppressed and they were repeatedly told that they were invisible. She added, “To be heard and to become visible, we have to shout.”

On restoration of student unions

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One of the main demands of the student solidarity march is the restoration of student unions. People have frequently argued that such a move would result in violence. With regard to this, Mohsin stated that student unions existed all around the world, but we did not see any violence, which was only seen in Pakistan.

He added that this showed the problem was with the circumstances prevailing in Pakistan. He opined that in the 1950s and 60s, student organisations raised their voice for the marginalised and against dictatorship, and we did not witness violence from them or amongst them.

He stated that the tradition of violence was started when student unions were banned and a fascist student organisation, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba became a force on university campuses. He added, “When the playing field was given to extremists, how can you expect violence to not occur?”

On the criticism that students should only read and write and not partake in politics, Arooj argued that if that was to be the case, then the state should not dictate what students study and what history they were taught.

On the slogan, ‘Asia will be red’

Many people had also taken issue with the slogan of ‘Asia surkh ho ga’ (Asia will be red). While commenting on the use of the slogan, Arooj stated that the slogan does not mean that there would be violence. She added, “Red is the colour that connects us as it is the colour of the blood that runs through our veins. Red is the colour of love. It is also the colour of rebellion.”

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She added that the rebellion they were idealising with this slogan was against the system that was oppressing everyone equally. “This slogan was also raised in the student movement against General Ayub Khan in 1968,” she added.

“The essence of our demands is the negation of the system of oppression and competition,” she added.

On the Student Solidarity March

The activists stated that they had been mobilising and protesting since a couple of years. They added that with this march, they intended to get guarantees from government officials regarding their demands of the restoration of student unions, provision of free education for all, removing discrimination in educational institutions, and an end to sexual harassment of women on campuses.

They added that in case they did not get any guarantees, they may transform their protest into a sit-in, adding that protests would be held in various cities across the country.

“This is a historical moment for our survival,” they concluded.

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