Ministers, leaders of opposition parties, journalists as well as rights activists have voiced their support for marchers as students across the country take to roads for 2019 edition of the Students’ Solidarity March and press the authorities for better educational facilities.
The marchers insist that the government must ensure the following:
- Lift the ban and hold elections for student unions
- Abandon privatisation of educational institutes and reverse the recent decision of school and college fee hike
- The state should pledge free education for all
- No more budget cuts for the Higher Education Commission (HEC) or sacking of educational staff
- At least five per cent of the GDP should be allocated for education
- Abolish the semester system
- Lift the ban on students from participating in political activities
- End the intervention of security forces in educational institutions and release all students held captive in the name of national security
- Establish committees to investigate incidents of sexual harassment and ensure women are made a part of the setup
- All universities should have a library, hostel and provide transport and an internet connection
- Modernise education systems according to the modern scientific requirements
- Set up schools and colleges in lesser developed areas and increase the quota of students coming from outside main cities
- Establish research centres for a transition from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy in public sector universities
- Announce April 13 as a national holiday to honour Mashal Khan
The march on Friday was held in over 50 cities across Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Quetta, Gilgit, parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and interior Sindh.
Students, labourers, lawyers and rights union members all joined in as thoroughfares flooded with marchers holding banners, placards and red flags. Solidarity was also expressed with members of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) as protests against fee hike continues across the border.
In a tweet, the Progressive Students’ Collective (PSC) shared the final locations for the march.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also lent his support to the marchers.
“The PPP has always supported student unions. The restoration of student unions by SMBB [late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto] was purposely undone to depoliticise society,” he tweeted.
“Today students are marching in the #StudentSolidarityMarch for the restoration of unions, implementation of right to education, end to privatisation of public universities, implementation of sexual harassment legislation, right to student housing & the demilitarisation of campuses. The spirit of activism and yearning for a peaceful democratic process from a new generation of students is truly inspiring [sic].”
Earlier in the day, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhary also came out in support of the restoration of student unions and termed the ban “undemocratic”.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari wrote:
Among others who expressed support for student marchers were politicians including PPP’s Farhatullah Babar, former Awami National Party (ANP) parliamentarian Bushra Gohar and journalists, including Mazhar Abbas.
Earlier, the PSC and other organisations from all over Pakistan had formed the committee (SAC) at a national level to demand the revival of student unions and other issues. Representatives of student organisations from Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan, KP, AJK and Punjab are part of the SAC.
According to Dawn, over the past three weeks, SAC office bearers have conducted corner meetings in public and private educational institutions to hold the march in their respective areas. They said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had left students dejected and directionless and reduced the higher education budget to almost half, bringing Pakistan into the list of countries that spend very less on education.
Ahead of the march, scores of Pakistani student leaders studying at international universities have also voiced their support for the march.
In an open letter addressed to the government, students have come together under the banner of the Pakistan International Students Alliance (PISA) and registered opposition to the ban on student unions.
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