The ‘Student Solidarity March’ is being held in over fifty cities nationwide calling for a restoration of student unions among other demands. This year has seen increased interest in student politics and a huge turnover is expected. The protests are organised by Students Action Committee which has the backing of several left-wing groups along with other students and workers groups. The aim is to rally students and activists to protest for their rights denied by the state for a long time. Students unions were banned during the era of military dictator General Zia and efforts to revive them have not made significant progress.
The student solidarity march gained attention after the Faiz International Festival held in Lahore where a video showing a girl chanting verses from a revolutionary poem went viral. The student demands include ending fees hikes and cuts to the education budget. They also want an end to religious vigilantes and a conducive environment in educational institutions. There have been frequent incidents when right-wing student groups have resorted to harassment, intimidation and even threats on campus often resulting in violence. A more controversial demand is against the involvement of security forces in campus activities which curbs free speech across universities.
The Governor’s Secretariat in Quetta issued a notification to the University of Balochistan, banning all political activity and gatherings, and instructing security personnel to prevent and disrupt them. The university is under the radar after a scandal emerged that the university’s administration blackmailed and harassed students. The vice-chancellor was forced to step aside and the institute is witnessing increased political activism. The HRCP has condemned the government’s attempts to curb the march and has expressed serious concerns that many students are being harassed, facing rustication, or are being evicted from their hostels to prevent them from participating in the march.
Despite facing hate propaganda on social media and a lack of coverage from mainstream media, the students continue to stage protests against the injustices on university campuses. With judicio-military political plays currently dominating the public mind, it is likely little heed will be paid to univiesrity students demanding basic rights. In the face of such circumstances, the students must remain resilient and continue to make noise till they are eventually heard.