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Marching For Better Education Is Not Treasonous

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Usman Khan writes about the criticism of Students Solidarity March and sedition charges against the students. State should pay heed to the demands instead of being hostile towards them.

Recently, Pakistan saw a major event take place: the Students Solidarity March, in which thousands took to the streets seeking redressal of their grievances.
The students were marching against fee hikes, insufficient funds for education and the incidents of sexual harassment.

But instead of paying heed to their demands, the state charged them with sedition. Unfortunately, the voices critical of the state’s policies are harassed and intimidated. In February, a student was charged with sedition and in mid-November, the protesting students of Sindh University were slapped with sedition charges.

Thus state of affairs is enough to explain why this march was needed.
The protesting students are also demanding an end to the ban on student unions. Although student unions have a history of political affiliation and incidents of riots, we must come to understand that students also need a mechanism whereby their concerns are conveyed to the administration. Recently, we have seen the chasm between students and administration get wider with nothing to bridge this looming catastrophe. The government must provide an avenue for such redressal by electing student councils to look into the issues faced by the students on campuses.

Prime Minister Imran Khan must be commended for his support for the demands of the students. He said that unions can be restored based on some rules and regulations.

Unfortunately, nationalists and ‘patriots’ of Pakistan viciously attacked the organizers and the marchers calling them undemocratic, foreign agents and traitors. Their slogans of Azadi were made into an anti-state separation without realizing that the slogan of Azadi here is for civil rights, which are being curbed by the government.

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Civil rights movements against Ayub, Zia and Musharraf – all had such slogans. The critics conveniently forgot that PM Imran Khan in 2014 used the slogan of ‘Azadi’ while marching against the then government. Was he also committing treason then?

Students need unions because by unionizing they can be able to raise their voice about their issues which are largely ignored.

Thirdly, many have said that such protests should not be allowed in the future. This intolerance towards the students uprising will only destabilize the country. The grievances of the protesters are genuine, and demands that must be heard. Educational reforms are the need of the hour.

The Student Solidarity March isn’t some foreign-funded conspiracy. The protesters are not seeking to destabilize the country. It is their fundamental right to protest and demand the government provide them with better education.

But by being hostile towards these protesting students, the government lost an opportunity to engage with them and have a civil discussion on their concerns.

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