LAHORE: As the students’ solidarity march is set to begin on Friday, a charged atmosphere engulfs the campuses.
Students in FC College and LUMS aired their views openly, but in GCU there were reports of fear in the air. Students reported a clampdown as they tried to rally their supporters.
Voicing demands has always been challenging, but for ethnic minorities it is far more difficult. As the GCU administration is not allowing students to hold activities and mobilization related to the march, Pushtun students as well as others are being unofficially stopped from holding study circles in their native languages.
Speaking to VoicePK.net these students opened up about what they face on a day to day basis, and why they believe they must join in the march.
A* who is a Pushtun student feels that he must join the march not as an emotional response to join the bandwagon, but as a rational decision that he and his friends have made to use the platform to voice their demands.
“Restoration of student unions and student representative bodies in the administrative structures of the institution will ensure students’ trust and confidence in the education system,” he says. “The hierarchy in the administration is unchallenged since decades and this must be tackled. It is dire of time to decentralize the education system and put the student at the central position.”
A*, like all other students interviewed is speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being pin pointed later.
“We, as Pushtuns are facing many problems based only on our ethnicity,” he says. “There is stereotyping, characterization, and profiling, and not just within campus but overall in Lahore too. They tag us using different names and link us with terrorism. Based on facial features, we have to undergo strict checking at the security and the address on our CNICs give the admin an excuse to treat us as outsiders.”
He recalls an incident when someone said to him “isko samajh nehin ayega yeh Khan sahib hay.”
Such remarks are very common, he says.
“As Pushtuns our demands are to stop Pushton profiling and avoid derogatory remarks about our culture and way of life, to increase the quota system and make the reserved seat admission easy and accessible, remove the paramilitary forces from the universities especially from Baluchistan and KP. Stop the militarization of educational institutes. Our last demand is to create a standardized system of educational institutions in KP and Baluchistan.”
For H* a student from Gilgit, reasons are similar.
“Restoration of the students union is integral, there are no two ways about it,” he says. “Our aim is equal representation of all provinces especially areas like Gilgit Baltistan which have no constitutional rights, no funding, no medical and engineering universities.”
He says they are facing problems from the administration of universities like fee structure, behavior of the guards who treat the students according to their ethnicity and languages, and the issue of quota seats for Gilgit students.
“In any case if there is a union of teachers, lawyers, and labor, then why we do not have students’ union?” he asks.
A student from South Punjab says that problems which are mentioned in the students’ Lahore manifesto such as fee hike, high prices of Internet and cafeteria, the issue of residence, and others were actually hard hitting.
“These are everyone’s issues,” he says. “I see nothing but hope and positivity as the march is a good step to help our voices reach the authorities. There is no way to vent our anger, so we intend to raise our concerns this way and ensure that we see student unions back in university again.”
Meanwhile Hanya Khan who is part of the Huqooq-e-Khalq Movement and the Students’ Collective says that students should definitely have a voice, and for that they have been holding events, study circles, and sessions on what problems the students face.
“The biggest tool which is helping us to mobilize is social media,” she says. “Even if the demands are not met on paper, the discourse is important. By getting people to talk about this, we need to show how powerful the students can be.”
– Report and video credits: Ali Ahmed Malik, and Rameen Qazi and Sheheryar Imran Ejaz.