The students have been up in arms about holding of exams on campus, amid police arrests and a lack of intervention by the HEC
The coronavirus pandemic forced universities everywhere in the world to move classes online. Pakistan was no different. However, the students here felt they weren’t taken on board while making such an important decision. Their main grouse was that those in remote areas would not be able to avail the ‘offer’ because of a lack of internet coverage.
Sporadic protests were witnessed in March last year, but the universities offered no solution and the students were forced to reconcile. Eventually, online classes were started and exams were conducted online. Following the exams of the semester taught online, the universities jumped to fresh semesters in September, ignoring the issues faced by several students. Recently, when the administrations announced that exams were going to be conducted on campus, the students’ community was again agitated. It boiled to a point where the disgruntled lot took to the streets. They began to mobilise under different student bodies such as the Progressive Students’ Collective (PSC) and Revolutionary Students’ Front (RSF). They came out in great numbers in many parts of the country.
In Lahore, students at the University of Management and Technology (UMT) held a protest demonstration in which many were baton-charged by the varsity guards. However, the protest ended on a peaceful note when the university administration accepted their demand (for online exams).
The following day, students at the University of Central Punjab (UCP) staged a protest. Only this time the protesters were met with tough action. The security guards baton-charged them and threw stones at them. As a result, several students were injured and some had to hospitalised.
At least 36 students were arrested when the UCP administration filed an FIR. The varsity also cancelled the admission of 150-odd students.
In the wee hours of January 28, the police broke into a private residence in Allama Iqbal Town and nabbed five other students belonging to the PSC. Their whereabouts are not known at the time of filing this article.
Muhammad Zubair Siddiqui, president of the Lahore chapter of the PSC, who is among the missing students, earlier told TNS, “We want online exams because our entire semester was taught online, which was a bad experience in terms of the quality of education. All that the teachers would do was share Wikipedia and YouTube links with us.”
Muhammad Zubair Siddiqui, president of the Lahore chapter of the PSC, who is among the missing students, had earlier told TNS, “We want online exams because our entire semester was taught online, which was a bad experience in terms of the quality of education. All that the teachers would do was share Wikipedia and YouTube links with us.
“When we raised our voice against it, we were treated as if we were criminals. We remained peaceful but we did not get any credit for that.”
Talking about the crackdown on students, Raja Yassir Humayun Sarfraz, the Punjab minister for higher education, told a private TV channel, “This is a matter between a university administration and its students. I am not the one to decide who the culprit is. The students were arrested because the [university] administration had filed an FIR.”
Talking to TNS, Kamran Bashir, a professor at the UMT, says, “I don’t understand why students are insisting on online examinations because the papers, questions, content and even the examiners are going to be the same whether you take the exams online or on campus.
“I urge the students to remain peaceful and follow the instructions given by the university,” he adds.
Ammar Ali Jan, a political activist and member of the Haqooq-i-Khalq Movement (HKM), says: “We demand a complete overhaul of how exams are conducted, not only amid pandemic but also for the future. There should be conceptual papers set by the teachers, monitored by special automated proctoring services, hired by overseas educational institutions, which can catch cheaters taking their exams online. This is no excuse for torturing and arresting students who’ve been protesting peacefully.
“These are difficult times where everyone is disturbed and there have been protests by students across the globe but nowhere were they apprehended or baton-charged.”
In the final analysis, throughout the series of protests and police arrests, an effective and timely response by the government has been missing. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has given full authority to universities to deal with the matter. The government was expected to act as a mediator between the students and university administrations; it is because of its apathy that incidents of violence and crackdown on students have occurred.
The situation has left the students without hope. They are requesting that those arrested not be presented in courts as if they were criminals, because they are only peaceful protesters. Criminal cases can ruin careers and lives. The need of the hour is that the government immediately intervenes and ensures speedy justice for the aggrieved and arrested students.
The writer is a freelance graphic designer. He tweets @Ehteysham1