ISLAMABAD— Students, activists and supporters across Pakistan are coming out on Friday to join the Student Solidarity March, led by the Student Action Committee (SAC), to present a charter of demands including the restoration of the student unions.
The march has kicked off in Karachi, with students as well as prominent civil society members — such as Mohammad Hanif and Jibran Nasir — gathering at Regal Chowk and marching on to Atrium Mall.
As the demonstration started marching opposite Fatima Jinnah Road opposite Atrium Mall, shopkeepers started closing down their shutters. It has now reached close to Karachi Press Club.
Echoes of “Hum kya chaahte? Aazaadi!” are resounding in the area.
ضibran Nasir, while speaking to the media, said: “I have come to support our country’s future. Students are our future. We must realise that our future will never be bright if we keep on lighting monuments of the past.”
“Any real and new leadership that comes forth in the country, will not cross through the corridors of Aabpaara and Pindi. It will come from colleges and universities,” said Nasir.
In a tweet, the Progressive Students’ Collective (PSC) shared the final locations for the march taking place in 50 cities of Pakistan. While in some cities the march started in the morning in others it is expected in the afternoon. Marchers had already started to gather in Nasser Bagh in Lahore.
PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also lent his support to the marchers.
In a tweet, he said: “The PPP has always supported student unions. The restoration of student unions by SMBB was purposely undone to depoliticise society.
“Today students are marching in the #StudentSolidarityMarch for the restoration of unions, implementation of right to education, end to privatisation of public universities, implementation of sexual harassment legislation, right to student housing & the demilitarisation of campuses. The spirit of activism and yearning for a peaceful democratic process from a new generation of students is truly inspiring.”
Earlier, the PSC and other organisations from all over Pakistan had formed the committee (SAC) at a national level to demand the revival of student unions and other issues.
Representatives of student organisations from Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab are part of the SAC.
Over the last three weeks, SAC office-bearers have conducted corner meetings in the public and private educational institutions to hold the march in their respective areas. They said the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had left students dejected and directionless and reduced the higher education budget to almost half, bringing Pakistan into the list of countries that spend very less on education.
“The reason we are forced to do this on the roads is [because of] an affidavit that every student has to sign before they get admission. Basically there is no ban on student unions but, through certain orders, restrictions are imposed so students will not take part in politics or hold protests on campus,” explained Haider Kaleem, a journalism graduate from Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, who is among those organising the event.
Kaleem, who is also the organiser of the Progressive Students’ Federation (PRSF) and PSC — groups that advocate an open environment for students in order to promote critical thinking — had said that one of the several demands of the march’s participants is to lift restrictions that bar students from forming unions.
He said that the affidavit was also being challenged in the Lahore High Court but expressed little hope of the matter being resolved there.
Political science student Waqas Aalam, who will march at around 3pm from Karachi’s Regal Chowk to the press club, told Dawn that there were 10 basic demands but every province or unit did add more to the list as per its needs.
Ahead of the march, scores of Pakistani student leaders studying at international universities have also voiced their support for the march.
In an open letter addressed to the government, students have come together under the banner of the Pakistan International Students Alliance and registered opposition to the current ban on student unions in Pakistan.