The streets of Pakistan echoed with slogans of freedom and were a sea of red Friday as students across the country came out to demand their rights.
“Halla Bol, Halla Bol,” the students chanted as they made their way from Regal Chowk to the Karachi Press Club.
Around 38 cities took part in the Students Solidarity March.
On top of the list of demands by the students: revoke the ban on the formation of student unions imposed 35 years ago by General Ziaul Haq.
“In these 35 years, the space created has ruined politics and the options we have in it,” said Mumtaz, a student at the University of Karachi and a representative of the Progressive Students’ Union. Mumtaz believes it is a necessity of time as the representation of a common man has diminished from politics.
“So it’s 35 years of unresolved student issues, 35 years of ignorance and 35 years of hard work,” he said.
What else do these students want?
A better education system and a fair academic environment in public universities, said some of the marchers.
One marcher from the Jinnah Sindh Medical University of Karachi said the conditions of public universities are dismal. Basic needs like proper washrooms and furniture are not being provided.
Seats are given on an unfair basis, she said. But at the end of the day, she says, the university administration is sitting in their air-conditioned rooms and nobody really cares.
Another major demand by these students is the proper investigation of harassment cases in universities. They want syndicate committees in the universities so students can represent their own cases.
“Personally, one of the major problems I face is harassment,” said a marcher who is an alumni and faculty at the University of Karachi. “There are people coming inside the campus, who aren’t even students, forcing and groping us.”
Female students at the University of Balochistan are constantly terrorised of getting harassed, especially after the varisty’s recent harassment case, says Drousham Balouch, a member of the Baloch Student Organisation’s Karachi zone.
Balouch says campuses should have anti-harassment cells and a transparent investigation should be conducted so the culprits can be arrested.
She spoke about the demand for the release of missing students from the university. “Every student in the university is in constant fear that they will be next,” she said.
There is no freedom of speech either.
“We are constantly policed on campus over what we are wearing,” said one KU student. The marcher said their department head keeps schooling them on what to wear and what not to and calling their dresses provocative.
The students want a 10% increase in the education budget and a say in what the administration does, including framing course structures and scholarships.
“We are attending the march because we are not getting education rights in our region,” said Junaid Naeem, a student from Gilgit Baltistan. “We just have one university in the region and that too charges a hefty fee.”
He says they want the fees to reduce and a new educational law to be introduced especially for Gilgit-Baltistan.
We want the government to construct two engineering colleges and a medical college in the region and include the say of students in the formation of the curriculum, he said.
The situation isn’t that great at universities either.
Zaviya Hussemia, a student of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and member of the PRSF, says her varsity has student councils, but these bodies have no say in administration matters.
She compared them to the student councils of the 60s and 70s and said the ones in the past played a vital part in making important decisions.
“Our government has been so incompetent that they have been allowing the establishment of private universities,” she said, calling for an end to the commercialisation of education because it is harming the quality.