Aurat Jalsa In Karachi As City Prepares for Next Year's Aurat March

"Your life is at risk within the premises of your own university," said a student at the much-anticipated Aurat Jalsa 2019 held Friday in Karachi's Arts Council.

Students in Pakistani universities are facing a major crisis — their safety. While the authorities attempt to silence and invalidate the experiences of sexual harassment and increased surveillance, students came together at the Aurat Jalsa — hosted by the organisers of the Aurat March — to talk about their experiences and the backlash they faced when trying to speak up and resist.

Pakistani university students have been emphasizing the issue of safety on campus as part of the rising student movement. A very important part of this comes from female students who have been speaking out about sexual harassment, moral policing and surveillance. In this context, this past week on Friday, an Aurat Jalsa event was held at Karachi's Arts Council.

With the overall theme of “Harassment and Surveillance against Students”, the event covered the experiences of both public and private educational institutions. According to one of the moderators, the goal was to “essentially get people who are experiencing the same kind of injustices in a room and figure out how to address them because the student populace of this country is facing a crisis right now.”

Some of the conversation is informed by the recent emergence of reports from Balochistan University where surveillance cameras appear to have been misused in an effort to harass and blackmail students. Amidst protests by students at Balochistan University, calls of solidarity from across the country grew – demanding not just a fair inquiry but also a conversation about the links between securitization of campuses, policing of students and harassment. The response from the administration, at least in the case of Balochistan University, had been a dismissal of the students' concerns. Moreover, the authorities demanded the end of “political activities” on the campus.

At the Aurat Jalsa, in Karachi, students spoke openly about the involvement of university administrations across the country in harassment of students or in covering it up.

One of the sentiments expressed here was that students are being viewed as commodities and their education as a series of “business transactions”, instead of institutions of higher learning preparing autonomous individuals for life ahead. Moreover, the speakers emphasized the fact that many claims of sexual harassment or misconduct are often shut down or swept under the rug – which is often a preferred means for university administrations and various staff in dealing with such cases.

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