Pakistan has a young population with over 65 % of its population under the age of 25 years. On Friday November 29th, many of them made their voices heard. The reaction of the government, however, has been to crack down on the movement and arrest activists.
Thousands of students rallied in cities across the country, demanding the allocation of 5% of Pakistan’s GDP for education, an end to privatization of educational institutions, provision of basic facilities for students, and the constitution of sexual harassment committees in educational institutions.
In Islamabad the protest “included a theatrical performance by the group Lal Hartal, rousing speeches and sloganeering, and a march to D-Chowk. It was led by an alliance of leftist student organisations called the Student Action Committee (SAC), and included students from the Progressive Students Federation (PSF), the Progressive Students Collective, the Revolutionary Students Federation, the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), and the Pashtun Student Federation.”
According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan secretary-general Harris Khalique, “student organisations played a major role during the independence movement and the creation of Pakistan. “If you look at the movement in Pakistan, in East Pakistan and in West Pakistan between 1947 and 1971, it was student organisations which were heralding this struggle for democratic freedoms and democratic rights, students’ rights and rights to education and for fundamental freedoms,” he added. “There were a number of student organisations from the centre, left and right, and those organisations would negotiate with each other through an election process in the educational institutions.” Yet since 1984, the time of military dictator General Zia ul Haq, student unions have been banned in Pakistan,
As one of the speakers at the march, Minhajul Arfeen, asked: “The real cause of our frustration is that for 35 years, we have been told to keep quiet and study. “‘Politics isn’t your job’. If politics is so bad for us that we were kept from it for 35 years, why isn’t a single Pakistani university one of the top 200 in the world?”
Amnesty International issued an appeal on behalf of the students and activists “The Pakistani authorities must immediately end their crackdown on peaceful student protests, Amnesty International said today. The human rights organization’s call came after the Pakistani police have filed criminal charges against activists who have supported the ‘Student Solidarity March’ and the arbitrary detention of Alamgir Wazir, one of the protestors. The crackdown comes in the wake of peaceful student solidarity marches across Pakistan, demanding the right to form student unions and calling for an end to the harassment of students among other concerns. Alamgir Wazir was detained from the Punjab University campus in Lahore on 30 November 2019, and his whereabouts are still not known. He is the nephew of Ali Wazir, a parliamentarian and leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, a non-violent movement calling for an end to enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations against Pakistan’s Pashtun ethnic minority. The other four activists named in the police report – Ammar Ali Jan, Farooq Tariq, Muhammad Shabbir, Kamil Khan, and Iqbal Lala – are at risk of imminent arrest. Ammar Ali Jan, Farooq Tariq, Muhammad Shabbir and Kamil Khan are political activists. Iqbal Lala is the father of the late Mashal Khan, a student who was killed at his university after fellow students falsely accused him of committing blasphemy. The five activists have been charged with ‘sedition’, ‘maintenance of public order’, ‘nuisance’, and ‘continuation nuisance’ – draconian clauses in the penal code which trace their origins to British colonial rule. They have also been charged with the violation of the ‘Punjab Sound Systems (Regulation) Act’ – a non-bailable offence that can be punished by six months imprisonment and/or a fine.”