April 2nd, 2021
By Hamid Riaz & Hassan Raza
After almost 25 days of continuous struggle and an ongoing hunger strike, the students’ of Islamiya University Bahawalpur from ex-FATA were finally able to convene with the Governor of Punjab Chaudhry Sarwar. Unfortunately for the protestors, negotiations with the governor fell apart, and the students have little recourse but to ‘starve themselves to death’.
“We told the governor that we are not asking for much. All we want is for him to implement the notification he has already signed. But instead of solving our problem, he kept making excuses – can one imagine? The Governor of Punjab making excuses!” cries a protesting student, in disillusionment.
In the morning of April 2, 2021, the almost month long students’ camp outside the Governor House Punjab was visited upon by PML-N leader Khwaja Saad Rafique, which may have acted as a catalyst for their meeting with the Governor. Along with Khwaja Saad Rafique, MNA Mohsin Dawar had also come by and sat down with the protesting students, as well as academics Ammar Ali Jan and Nida Kirmani. In a positive development, students from Lahore came out in droves to support their fellows from former FATA, which has been a source of inspiration for the protestors.
“Most of the educational infrastructure of former FATA was destroyed in the war against terror,” explains Ijaz, the Chair of the Pashtun Students’ Council at the Islamiya University Bahawalpur. “Because of this situation, the PML-N government under the leadership of Shehbaz Sharif designated special quota seats in all public sector universities of Punjab. Under the scheme, every department in our university was bound to give admission to two students from former FATA. “After the merger of the tribal areas, the KP government under Imran Khan’s PTI announced that these reserve seats would be doubled, but instead the seats were canceled altogether.”
The move created widespread discontent among students from these areas, leading to a month-long arduous struggle. A series of visits by major opposition leaders to the protesters’ camp helped in pressurizing the government to fold to their demands and issue a notification to all public sector universities to restore the original reserved seats.
All public sector universities abided by the fresh order save the Islamiya University Bahawalpur, whose administration refused to comply with the official notification, resulting in this current wave of protests. Students set up camp right across Punjab Governor’s residence and held intermittent protests outside the press club. Despite weeks of protests, the university administration has plainly refused to budge, prompting students to launch a hunger strike which has now entered its third day.
“We have talked to our fellows in Bahawalpur, and more students are on their way. Our numbers will swell and we will not give up. We will sit here for our right to education even if it costs us our lives,” asserts a protesting student.