ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of students from 20 different student organizations, under the umbrella of the Student Action Committee, gathered at the National Press Club on Friday to march towards Islamabad’s busy D-Chowk in protest against the ban on student unions.
The demand to restore student unions was lit with a hope that the protest would prove to be the first step in the right direction.
“As a university professor, it is is my duty to support their struggle for the rights of free association,” said Professor Akmal Hussain, holding up a banner together with student protesters at the march. “They should be given the right to form their own unions.”
Known personalities and rights groups such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell also joined protesters in for support.
“The state shouldn’t be afraid. The state should rather embrace student politics.” – Arieb Azhar
Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, activist and nuclear physicist, was one of the prominent faces present at the march.
“Unions and collective organizations are absolutely essential because it is through those means a society manages to express itself, not just by vote,” he said.
“I think it’s high time that this is happening,” human rights activist, Tahira Abdullah, exclaimed in good spirits. “Very happy that this is happening – it’s three decades, late but better late than never. Proud to be part of this march.”
Coke Studio musician, Arieb Azhar, was also present at the Student Solidarity March.
“If you ban student unions, then they will practice politics through dangerous and devious means,” Azhar noted. “If you legalize them, students through unions would raise their own issues such as those related to hostels, fees, sexual harassment. The state shouldn’t be afraid. The state should rather embrace student politics.”
“The solution to the nation’s problems is that Pakistanis continue to be a part of student politics, and take the country forward in an innovative way” – Fahad Shah (protester)
Unlike past protests in Islamabad, this procession was entirely peaceful – the Metro service ran on schedule as it does on any other normal day, contrary to how one has seen in the past.
“I am here to show solidarity with students in this march so that they can have another chance to make their mark in politics,” said Fahad Shah, a protester from Gilgit-Baltistan. “The way they have been deprived from partaking in politics for 30 years, from 1985 to 2019… we want to regain that position so that current political system would have a new essence and passion. The solution to the nation’s problems is that Pakistanis continue to be a part of student politics, and take the country forward in an innovative way.”
“There have been some statements from the ministers today [in support of student unions] but we have told them that we want an act in Parliament that immediately gives protection to the students,” claimed Ammar Rashid, one of the organizers of the march. “If they don’t, we will take the matter to the Supreme Court to restore our fundamental right as guaranteed by the Article 17 of the Constitution.”
Although sexual harassment incidents have been going on for long, now was the time for students to come to the fore and let themselves be heard.
Student councils have lent their support for the march but Muniba, another organizer of the Students Solidarity March, said that support came from their own capacity.
“If they support us through official means, then the very universities will abolish these councils,” she iterated.
Maria, from the Awami Workers Party, noted that although sexual harassment incidents have been going on for long, now was the time for students to come to the fore and let themselves be heard. She also mentioned a charter of demands under which students had organized the march.
“Every district should have a university. Especially tribal areas, because a lot of students from these regions cannot afford education.”
As dusk arrived and the chants carried on without any hint of a lack in fervor, the students of Pakistan carried on with a light of hope that a better future was finally awaiting them.
Report by Anas Malick and Asra Haque