March 19th, 2021
By Hamid Riaz
Students of Islamia University Bahawalpur from the former FATA region have been staging a sit-in outside the Punjab Governor House for the last three days, demanding the restoration of students’ scholarships and quotas as per a notification of the Punjab government.
Following the military operations in the former FATA region when the education infrastructure of the area was badly damaged, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) government under the leadership of Chief Minister (CM) Shehbaz Sharif had announced reserved seats with quotas and scholarships for students from ex-Fata in all the public sector universities of Punjab.
After the merger of the tribal areas, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government announced the doubling of these reserved seats. But instead of doubling the seats, the PTI government chose to cancel them altogether under the pretext of austerity measures.
The move created widespread discontent among students from these areas leading to a month-long struggle. Students from Balochistan and ex-Fata first organized separate protests in their respective areas and later initiated a long March from BZU Multan to Islamabad via Lahore. While the students from ex-Fata organized a March to Quetta which later transformed into a sit-in.
The undying struggle of these students for their right to quality education was praised by a large section of society and their protest camp was visited by key figures from the intelligentsia and politics including Maryam Nawaz. Owing to the increased hype these visits gave to the plight of these students the government finally folded and issued a notification ordering all public sector universities to restore the original reserved seats.
All public sector universities abided by the orders issued by the government except for the Islamia University Bahawalpur whose administration called the government notification a “joke” and a “ploy” to get the students to end their sit-in. This callousness of the Islamia University Bahawalpur administration forced the students of the university to take to the streets once again.
“We have met the administration of our university several times but they always dismissed our demands. At first, we set-up a protest camp outside the Islamia University Bahawalpur which lasted for 10 days but the university administration refused to negotiate with us. Now we have come to Lahore once again with the same demands. I plead with the government to protect our right to quality education,” says Ijaz a protesting student from the Islamia University.