group of women congregated at the entrance of the Government Girls’ Intermediate College, Barkhan, on August 26.
For four days, as these girls staged a protest, calling for the provision of basic facilities and demanding that the college principal resign, Barkhan became a microcosm of the educational crisis plaguing Balochistan.
The protestors asked for several improvements including the appointment of permanent faculty instead of ad hoc staff, commencement of transportation services and access to a functional library.
The protest concluded peacefully after the district administration and former MPA Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran assured the demonstrators that their demands would be addressed within a month.
“There is only one permanent instructor employed by the college. She also holds the position of the principal,” said Aqsa*, a student.
Another student speaking on the condition of anonymity told The News on Sunday that the college was scheduled to re-open in July but due to a shortage of teachers, it had not been operating at full capacity since.
According to her, a shortage of teaching staff was one of the main problems faced by the institution. “The college is currently grappling with significant challenges primarily stemming from a shortage of teaching staff,” she told TNS.
“It has gotten so bad that most of the students just home because going to college is pointless. The college simply does not have the staff to give lectures,” she added.
According to Allah Baksh who works as a clerk in the college, the college has not had many permanent teachers since 2011. “… we get one or two [instructors], they are transferred elsewhere in no time,” the official said.
“That is why the institution has been compelled to hire teachers on a contractual basis. The contracts are renewed annually,” he explained.
Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran mentioned that the college bus was not running because of the unavailability of fuel.
He said he had donated Rs 300,000 for the resumption of bus service and was committed to getting the problem resolved. He said he was also trying to ensure that the teachers were paid their salaries.
The Barkhan deputy commissioner has taken notice of the issue and written a letter to the Loralai commissioner endorsing most of the students’ demands. He has requested intervention to ensure that educational activities are not disrupted. In his letter, the DC has underscored the need for swift action.
However, it seems that the students’ grievances run deeper than that. One of the four demands of the protestors, in addition to recruitment of permanent faculty and resumption of bus and library services, has been the termination of the current principal.
The protestors allege that the principal is prejudiced against people belonging to a specific caste.
“The principal appears to be biased against a particular caste. She has been discouraging students from this caste from attending the college,” says Aqsa*.
“Textbooks have been distributed among students but a specific group has been excluded. Students in this group have been told to purchase the books,” she says. “As the number of students borrowing the textbooks from the library is large, there are not enough books to go around. The administration has responded by closing down the library,” she says.
Aqsa* also alleges that the students were humiliated for trying to voice their concerns. She says most students have given up and stopped coming to the college.
“A few years ago, residents of Barkhan campaigned against people from other regions being considered for employment,” says Zahra*, another pupil. “Ever since, the principal has been hostile towards the local community,” she says.
The principal did not respond to a request for comment. Sardar Khetran claimed that most of the students did not have a problem with the principal’s conduct. He said only a few students were targeting her.
“I have interviewed many students,” Sardar Khetran told TNS, “most of them say that they’re satisfied with her [the principal’s] performance. It appears that the principal is being targeted because she’s not from this area,” he said. He sees political motives behind he demand.
Sardar Khetran says Shahzain Baloch, a prominent social activist is driving the protest. Baloch, the chairman of Barkhan Nojawan Ittehad, denies a political motive. “I categorically deny association with any political organisation. Our organization is strictly non-partisan. It has been dedicated to advocating for the fundamental rights of the Barkhan community,” says Baloch.
“It is important to note that the students who participated in the protests too do not align with any political group,” says Baloch. “We endeavored independently to persuade the district administration to acknowledge the girls’ demands and seek viable solutions,” he says.
One of the college teachers who spoke to TNS on condition of anonymity said she found the principal biased and discourteous.
Allah Baksh says this is not true. “The allegations are baseless. As principal, her conduct has been exemplary. In her dealings with students she has always been impartial. She upholds the college rules and has shown a strong commitment to discipline. She has been strict in prohibiting the use of mobile phones on campus. The strictness has prompted some individuals to call for her removal,” the clerk says.
Another student speaking anonymously says she worries that the role of educators is being undermined. “The air is charged,” she says, “if their [protesting students’] demands are not met within the month, there may be another round of protests.”
The writer is afreelance contributor