Students Solidarity March Demands Restoration of Student Politics In Pakistan
LAHORE: Thousands of students on Friday held Students Solidarity March, joined by various social groups including teachers, lawyers, activists, and members of political parties in more than 50 cities across the country.
In Lahore, the march began from Istanbul Chowk and culminated at Charing Cross. The charged crowd raised slogans against the system and demanded their rights as students and young Pakistanis. Students from all major public and private universities of the city joined the march.
The students demanded an increase in the higher education budget, better transportation facilities, and services on the campuses, reduced tuition fees, end to harassment of students at the universities, and, above all, a better quality of education. Students were carrying the placards with slogans demanding the restoration of student unions in the country, the foremost demand of the march.
Talking to Naya Daur on the occasion, lawyer Abid Hasan Manto said that it warmed his heart to see the students taking to the streets of Lahore in such large numbers.
Environmental lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam said that he had not seen a bigger rally during the last few years in Lahore. “I think a new kind of politics is taking root in Pakistan. First, we saw active participation of women and activists in the Aurat March. Then the climate march was bigger than the Aurat March and the students. And this march is even bigger. So I think it’s something new happening in Pakistan’s politics, and it’s good”, he said.
Professors from public and private sector universities also participated in large numbers. Talking to Naya Daur, academic Nida Kirmani said that the participation from public sector universities was reasonable but it could have been more. “But it is just the start. It is expected to increase in the years to come”, she said.
Activist and academic Ammar Ali Jan said that there could be no feeling more beautiful than seeing your students learning what you’ve been teaching them. “These students are acting as responsible citizens. They’re finally raising their voice which was being suppressed for the last 35 years. Support for the march has been expressed by both opposition and the government. However, we believe that tweeting in our support is not enough. The government should give us a time-table for the restoration of the student unions”, he said.
The speakers at the rally paid rich tribute to the martyred Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan in their speeches. Mashal’s father Iqbal Lala also spoke at the event. “When I see these scenes today, it reminds me of my time. In 1968, students from both wings of Pakistan had come out in big numbers against dictator Ayub Khan. That movement had borne fruit when President Ayub had been forced to resign”, Lala said.
He also requested the government to listen to the demands of the students. “These youths are the real force today. And this powerful section of society can revolutionise the system. I’d request the government to give them their due rights instead of suppressing their voices”, he added.
The students speaking at the event also said that they were taking forward the mission of Mashal Khan. “We’re here today because of Mashal Khan. It is his mission that we’re trying to accomplish”, one of the speakers at the march said.
Talking on the occasion, Comrade Farooq Tariq said that Lahore had turned red today. “People used to ask me where the ‘left arm’ is. I would say, I’ll show it to you one day. Today, I can say it to them: come and see the ‘left arm’. Lahore is red today”, he said. He added that the time of the ruling elites was up and the new era belonged to the young, progressive students and youth.
He then revealed that he had been contacted by Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar and was assured of complete support for the demands of the students. “I told him that Husnain Jamil is a student of Punjab University and his degree has been cancelled. The governor said that he is restoring the degree as the chancellor of the university”, Farooq Tariq said.
“It was the governor of Punjab. I don’t get phone calls from even the SHO of my area. And today the governor was calling me. So he wasn’t really calling me. He was calling you. This is your strength. This is what you have done today with this march”, Tariq added.
Women were not only attending the march in large numbers but they were leading it. The organisers ensured that the female students carried the main banner and led the students’ solidarity march. Comrade Muhibba, one of the organisers of the march, said while speaking at the event that various ministers and government officials had expressed their support for the Students Solidarity March during the last two days. “They are supporting us on Twitter, and by inviting us to their drawing rooms. But I want to make it clear. If you want to support us, then join us on the roads and make the demands that we are making”, she said.
“You divided us. You depoliticised us. You separated us from our Pashtun, Baloch, Seraiki, Kashmiri, and Gilgiti brethren. We reject your politics of divide. We will not do deals in the drawing rooms. We will continue protesting till the student unions are restored”, she said.
The march was a big success and most speakers agreed that it was the start of a new chapter in the leftist politics of the country. As one Pashtun student put it, ‘it is the beginning of a new era in Pakistan’s politics whereby all groups will transcend the class and ethnic divides and join hands with each other to demand their rights from those enjoying power for the last 72 years’.
The author is an SM politician, SM blogger, SM liberal, SM everything. He writes for a living and has a habit of poking his nose into everything political. History, IR, Journalism and Sports are other interests.