Protesters demand lifting of ban on student unions

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ISLAMABAD: (Raja Furqan Ahmed): Hundreds of students representing educational institutions across the twin cities held a protest march on Wednesday to mark the 38th anniversary of the ban on student unions imposed by the military regime of General Zia ul Haq. Uniting on the platform of the Progressive Students Federation (PSF), various left-wing and ethnic-national organizations gathered at the National Press Club from where a peaceful march took place to F-6 Supermarket along with trade unionists, intellectuals, progressive political workers, and ordinary citizens. Speaking on the occasion, PrSF leaders Ikramullah Mahseed, Faryal Rasheed, Jamil bin Iqbal, Sanaa’i Muhammad, Israr Gharsheen, Mustafa Wynne, and others said that almost 4 decades in which criminalization of politics on college and university campuses has had a devastating effect on the democratic process in general and the development of youth in particular. They said that right-wing and exclusionary ideologies have gained ground, violence in educational spaces has become commonplace, and patriarchal norms have become deeply institutionalized. They said that the primary responsibility for unbanning student unions now lies with mainstream political parties who must take it upon themselves to pass legislation in the parliament to decriminalize student politics and democratize campuses more generally. Other speakers included Alia Amirali and Ammar Rashid of the Awami Workers Party, Mushtaq Chaudhry of the Pakistan Inquilabi Party, and Asif Rasheed of the Revolutionary Students Federation who noted that privatization of education is intensifying with each passing day resulting in spiraling fees, a severe shortage of hostels and other campus facilities, declining quality of education and unaccountable faculty and administrators. They also slammed the brutalization of students from ethnic peripheries through practices like enforced disappearances. The rally demanded removal of the ban on student unions and immediate conduction of nationwide student union elections, an end to the privatization of educational institutions, reimbursement of the fee taken after increments and free education for all, reversal of the cuts in education budget levied by HEC, removal of mandatory affidavit signing and freedom to conduct political activities on-campus, an end to campus securitization and the immediate return of arrested/missing students, uniformity in hostel curfews of both male and female students, immediate formation of anti-harassment committees with an effective representation of students in all campuses in Pakistan, provision of free hostels and transportation facilities to all students, an end to the class-based education system and implementation of a curriculum based on the principles of science, the immediate provision of a university in every district and increase in the quota for students hailing from peripheries, provision of jobs to unemployed students or the provision of unemployment allowance, end to on-campus harassment of students based on their nationality, language, class or religion, immediate provision of hostels in Islamabad to students hailing from far-flung areas and end to CDA-led private hostel evictions in the capital.

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