Progressive Students Collective organised a series of protests and rallies in several cities of Pakistan on 9 February 2022. Their sit-in outside Punjab Assembly in Lahore has reached the second day. This year marked the 38th anniversary of the undemocratic ban of student unions in Pakistan by deceased military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in 1984. The demonstrators gathered at Charing Cross to mourn this ban and continue to call for the restoration of student unions in educational institutions. According to reports, many civil society members, trade unions, rights activists, and lawyers participated in the sit-in to show solidarity with the students.
Progressive Students Collective Demands
Since 2018, Progressive Students Collective has been pressing for their demands to no effect. They said that the Punjab governor committed to giving scholarships to Balochistan and ex-FATA students, but it was still pending. They also mentioned the promise of the current PTI government to establish new universities, but not a single one came in 4 years.
Besides lifting the 3-decade old ban, the union has also been pushing to abolish the contract universities force students to sign before admission. It is unlawful and totally contrary to article 17 of the constitution, which states that every citizen has the right to form unions unless restriction from the law based on sovereignty, integrity, public order and morality. The wide range of demands also include:
- Free healthcare based on student cards
- 50% discount on transportation fees
- Sexual harassment committees in all universities and female representation in sexual harassment committees
- Forceful disappearance of students and teachers must stop, and Sohail Baloch and Faseeh Baloch must be returned
- Remove military personnel from educational institutions in Sindh and Balochistan
- The addition of a separate column for transgenders in the ‘gender’ category of admission forms and ensuring implementation of Transgender Act 2018
- Establishment of Baba Fareed University in Pak Pattan
- Revoke recent fee hikes in universities
- HEC budget must be 5% of GDP
- Cancel National Licensing Exam (NLE) 2 for local medical graduates and cancel Mandatory Station in NLE 2 for foreign medical graduates.
Government Officials should Pay Attention to Students
Political activist and leader of Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement (HKM) Ammar Ali Jan also visited the sit-in of Progressive Students Collective in front of the Punjab Assembly. He described how students have been fighting for the constitutional rights that were strategically stripped from them by the military dictatorship. They even spent their entire night at the camp. Jan requested the government officials to visit and do something about the students’ demands as their future was at stake.
Students Continue to Struggle for their Constitutional Rights
The unions are the only way for students to voice their grievances which is why Progressive Students Collective has been pursuing it for 4 years. Banning such platforms indicate that the country is afraid of free-thinking students capable of changing the sorry political system that only benefits the corrupt. Student rights activist Arooj Aurangzeb also explained the history associated with a well-orchestrated ban on student unions. She described how few selected entities plot to hold power over the entire country and prevent progressive minds to take part in politics. The sit-in would reportedly continue in front of the Punjab Assembly for 3 more days.