The student solidarity march took place this Friday all over Pakistan. A movement that was made for students by students took onto the streets to fight against their institutional oppressors. I had the privilege of being part of such a brave group of young fighters but truth be told, I almost didn’t make it.
Thousands of students were on the roads, demanding from state directly to address their anger and grievances.
Surkh hoga Surkh hoga
Asia surkh hoga!@PrsfK#StudentsSolidarityMarch #StudentUnions pic.twitter.com/k6aPUpJkTm
— اناالحر ☭ (@WaqasAalam) November 29, 2019
It was on Thursday that I saw my friends from Karachi upload Instagram stories about the time and date of the march, urging everyone to come forward and raise their voice for a better educational system.
You dont have to be a current student to be a part of the Student march. These demands concern every single one of us. Our system is draining its own intellectual capacity and now is the time to step up and raise your voice against student injustice. #StudentsSolidarityMarch pic.twitter.com/M5Ntpxp8Ui
— nuwanda (@ManalKhan0) November 27, 2019
A friend of mine asked me if I would be going. By that point, I had just gotten done with a nine-hour workday and had to go home to finish assignments for my own degree. Balancing work and school is not easy so I initially said no, I would not have the time to make it.
Never forget #MashalKhan and support #StudentsSolidarityMarch pic.twitter.com/rPAE07sLe3
— meena gabeena (@gabeeno) November 29, 2019
But then came Friday. I was sipping my too cold chai as I scrolled through social media and saw posts and hashtags about the march.
Each picture I liked was captioned “Student Solidarity March” and I felt this overwhelming need to be a part of it. I saw my friends fighting for moral policing on their campuses, more student spaces, less surveillance and interference with their personal lives.
I don’t exactly remember what came over me as I left my chai on the desk and went to my boss to ask her for a half-day. She was considerate enough to let me go, perhaps because she saw something urgent in my stance. I do not remember how I got to my car or how I used Google Maps to drive to Karachi Press Club. What I do remember is the chanting I heard in my head.
Beautiful moment – father of #Mashaalkhan arrives at the #StudentsSolidarityMarch in #Lahore pic.twitter.com/djXRd5RjhL
— Ghazi Taimoor (@ghazi_taimoor) November 29, 2019
I heard young people screaming for freedom, I heard power structures being questioned, I heard institutionalized discrimination being rejected.
And when I finally arrived to witness the march with my own eyes, I heard my own voice demanding justice. And it was the loudest voice I have heard in my entire life.
The march was in full swing and in my periphery, I saw posters and slogans, built from years of anger and oppression. I saw men and women together, young and old, professionals and college students.
I saw the beginning of change. And even though I was late to the party, I felt myself mold in with them and their drive. Because the fight was for everyone.
Glimpse of the theater organized by #LaalHartaal and performed at #StudentsSolidarityMarch yesterday.
The play was about the different kinds of pressures and issues students face at different stages and from different stakeholders. pic.twitter.com/F5iSIXtCqu
— Maria H. Malik ☭ (@marriyamalik1) November 30, 2019
My friend Esha got on top of a wagon and protested proudly with the crowd. She said, “Standing in front of those people, screaming the word ‘azaadi’, was the most liberated I have felt in years. For once I did not feel entirely powerless.”
In Karachi alone, I was part of an alliance of 12 different student parties from around the country. The march was not a deconstructed haze of slogans and demands. We asked for a certain number of things and we did so in full understanding of our place in universities and colleges.
For years I have heard stories of moral policing women’s bodies on campuses, and I have experienced this first hand, where guards would look at female students up and down to approve of their outfits. What this accomplishes is the act of institutionalized harassment and I fought for its end with my female students.
There is no end to universities increasing student fees and taking away financial aid from needy students. Essentially, they have no rights. My friend Ali said, “The kinds of hierarchies these institutions have, the kind of control they impose on students, should be administered by students.”
Congratulations to all the students who're taking charge of their future and imagining an alternate, more inclusive, just and equal future.
We were proud to stand in solidarity with the #StudentsSolidarityMarch in Lahore. pic.twitter.com/zAqOj2rKFv
— Aurat March Lahore (@AuratMarch) November 30, 2019
What he meant by this is the rise of student unions, where we get to decide our own issues within the walls of our universities.
Students understand students and the system of governance we are seeing today, according to Ali, it is very territorial and restrictive. Students in Gilgit and Baltistan are not allowed to take part in research and were kept under surveillance constantly.
I remember reading about cases in Balochistan and Sindh where huge cases of negligence were shoved under the rug because of the woeful attitude of some members of the administration. I remember in my A-Level years being blamed for registering for the wrong exam when it was the administration who did the processing. I remember being told to not be too political on campus, or not get into the idea of student unions.
The budget cuts we see in Pakistan are a big part of what we marched for, and what I believe in. The education sector is being deprioritized, there are low quotas for public universities and the structures which monitor us are not equipped to meet the rising demands we have.
Faced intimidation & propaganda in lead up to the march. Today we gave our response on streets of Lahore and across Pakistan.
This is the beginning. Together, we will continue expanding our work for social and economic rights. I am certain we will win.
— Ammar Ali Jan (@ammaralijan) November 29, 2019
What started off as a small voice asking for justice, is now a revolution sweeping the entire country. I hope what we marched for and what we believe in continues to inspire and grow those who will come after us.
What are your thoughts on the Student Solidarity March? Let us know down in the comments!
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Cover image via The Self Assumed Artist, @JaveriaWaseem/Twitter