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October 24, 2020

Student sit-in

Editorial

 
October 24, 2020

Over three dozen students from Balochistan marched from Multan and camped outside the Punjab Assembly to demand the restoration of scholarships for students from Balochistan and also those from reserved groups in Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur and the formerly federal tribal areas. The students have said that these scholarships are not being given to those who were granted them. And, as a result, these students are being denied the right to education. The students had been given scholarships based on talent and merit in Punjab University and other universities, including the Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan, from where the students began their protest; they say their scholarships have been suspended. The universities say they do not have the funds to grant the money to the students, although the amounts they are allocated are not large. Students had in the past been granted scholarships under the Shahbaz Sharif administration. And also hostel fees for talented but needy students.

The desperation of the students is exhibited in the fact that they had camped outside the Bahauddin Zakariya University for 40 days without receiving any attention from provincial authorities in Punjab, or from anyone else in the province. They then set out for Lahore and reached it on Thursday, where they began their camp outside the Punjab Assembly. The only prominent leader who has visited students at their camp has been Maryam Nawaz Sharif who went there on Friday and spoke of their cause. Within a few hours of her visit to the student camp, on Friday evening, the Punjab government announced a four-year Scholarship Programme for Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and (former) Fata. While this is no doubt a win for these brave young students who had the courage and the resilience to raise a voice for their education, we should understand that if we need a nation that can progress and be equal in terms of the rights available to its citizens in all its regions, then such scholarships have to be granted without our young ones having to walk hundreds of miles in protest. It was unfortunate that no political will was shown for quite some time to even meet the students to hear their demands.

When the country made a democratic transition in 2009, one of the first promises the PPP government made was to restore student unions across the country. This never happened, despite the weak student organisations at the time continuing to demand the right to representation on campuses. In the same time period, the commercialisation of education has continued at full speed. The mushrooming of privatised higher education across the country has had disastrous consequences. In the last six years, the Higher Education Commission has cancelled a number of degrees, which has been met with strong protests. In the meanwhile, the state has continued to cut the higher education budget across the board – with the sharpest cuts coming under the so-called pro-youth PTI government. Education is a vital step to gaining opportunity and mobility in life. It would be extremely unfortunate if students from the deprived regions of the country are denied this right and are pushed back further in a time when inequality is already rampant all over the country, particularly when it comes to Balochistan and former Fata.