Student Solidarity Marches were held across Pakistan on November 29 and saw participation from teachers, lawyers, labourers, transgendered people, activists and members of political parties. It was led by members of the Student Action Committee (SAC) and the Progressive Students Collective (PSC). A day after the marches, some leaders and participants were arrested and charged for sedition, despite having previous support from the prime minister of Pakistan.
Alamgir Khan Wazir (Ali Wazir’s nephew) has been picked up by d “Na Malooms” a few hours ago from Punjab University. This is extremely condemnable & Sharamnak we demand immediate release of Alamgir and the perpetrators must be charged for this Un lawful Act. #ReleaseAlamgirWazir pic.twitter.com/fHe3p03Uo7
— Mohsin Dawar (@mjdawar) November 30, 2019
[Author's note: The term Na Maloom is usually used for people in the First Information Report not identified in a crime. But now leftists, progressive and politicians have started using this term for security agencies because they cant be named, and they do not ‘pick’ people legally and then no one can trace them.]
Akhtar Khan, a lecturer of the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, has been taken into custody under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act for speaking about human rights violations against Pashtuns and expressing support for the Student Solidarity March.
Akhtar Khan, a lecturer at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, has been jailed by FIA under the draconian cyber crime act for his Facebook posts, where he recently wrote on HR violations against Pakhtuns & supported the #StudentSolidarityMarch. #ReleaseAkhtarKhan pic.twitter.com/cpMAVcz7OO
— Ammar Rashid ☭ (@AmmarRashidT) December 3, 2019
This year’s march was the second organized by the Progressive Students Collective which was not only larger in size but also better organized. A charter of demands was also released after the march which included the restoration of student unions, demands to reduce fee hikes, to stop surveillance of student organizations, to end harassment of students and to provide better education facilities.
A students’ union is a student organization formed in educational institutes and is often provided office space on the campus. It is dedicated to social, organizational, representation and academic support activities for its members. Student unions were active in Pakistan; however, in 1984 then-President of Pakistan General Zia Ul Haq placed a ban on student unions because of alleged violence on campuses between Left and Right factions. After President Zia ul Haq’s death, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government removed the ban in 1989, but as students again got involved in violence the Supreme Court of Pakistan placed a complete ban on these activities in 1993.
The marchers carried posters with their demands; some participants recited poems and raised revolutionary slogans. Photos of the march were widely shared on social media under the hashtag #StudentSolidarityMarch.
Women rights activist Asma Aamir endorsed the revival of student unions:
Many politicans today once were the part of student unions becuase student unions are the nursery for young leadership. Therefore, I fully endorse the students demand for “Revival of Student Unions”. #StudentsSolidarityMarch #YouthPoliticalParticipation#RestoreStudentUnion
— Asma Aamir (@asmaaamir87) November 29, 2019
Even Prime Minister Imran Khan Tweeted in favour of student unions:
Universities groom future leaders of the country & student unions form an integral part of this grooming. Unfortunately, in Pakistan universities’ student unions became violent battlegrounds & completely destroyed the intellectual atmosphere on campuses.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) December 1, 2019
Chief Minister of Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah announced that his government would restore student unions in the Sindh province.
During Faiz Mela, an event organized every year in Lahore to commemorate the memory of the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, students began reciting lines from the revolutionary poem “Sarfaroshi ki Tamana” by Indian poet Bismil Azimabadi’. The revolutionary undertones of the poem garnered more attention for the students who were agitating for student unions, many of whom were criticized.
Just a day before the Student Solidarity March, the University of Punjab declared two students persona non grata and cancelled the admission of one of the leaders of the march, Husnain Jameel Faridi. Some students from Balochistan University Quetta were reportedly also expelled, however, the reasons are not clear.
Husnain Jameel said he will not bow down and join the march:
I am marching tomorrow at the #StudentsSolidarityMarch, because I refuse to be a passive victim. I will keep fighting against this system til the students can study on campuses with dignity and justice.
Join us tomorrow & be part of this historic movement!
— HUSNAIN JAMIL FARIDI (@HUSNAINJAMEEL) November 28, 2019
Public Relations Officer of The Punjab University Khurram Shahzad refuted the claim, while The Punjab University also tweeted in the matter.
It has been noticed that,misinformation has been spread on #SocialMedia regarding #FaizMela.PU has not expelled any Student regarding any participation in that type of activity. But Individuals who are misguiding the public and targeting the University, will not be tolerated.
— University of the Punjab (@pu_lhr_official) November 28, 2019
After the march Twitter hashtags started surfacing against it on social media. One was #StudentsMarchExposed, while an account named ‘Insafians Power Official’ supposedly a follower of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) started a trend against liberals after the march.
Progressive Students Collective has released a statement against the campaigns that have been launched against them:
We would like to reiterate that our politics is solely based on the rightful and constitutional demands of student rights and considering us pawns of any anti-national sentiment is a dire misappropriation of our cause. Our demands are constitutional and we make it clear as daylight that we will frame our politics and struggle well within the legal and constitutional framework.
Socio-political and economic conditions of Pakistan are not stable which was the driving force for students to organize this march to demand the revival of Student Unions; however, some segments of society think they are working on an Anti-Pakistan and Anti-Islam agenda so should be condemned and stopped.