Battling the status quo, Students Action Conference proposes a way forward

ISLAMABAD: Scores of students from across the twin cities’ educational institutions, as well as several delegates of other progressive and left-leaning parties, gathered on Saturday, at National Press Club Islamabad for the Students Action Conference organized by the Progressive Students Federation Islamabad-Rawalpindi (PrSF Isb-Rwp).

They vowed to build strong and long-lasting connections with students and youth across Pakistan so as to resist the ongoing corporatization of education and the anti-people capitalist system in all spheres of society. Fatima Shahzad, general secretary PrSF Isb-Rwp, hosted the sessions. There were three panels in the Students Action Conference.

The first panel, titled: “A critical analysis of single national curriculum” was moderated by PrSF unit secretary Mohsin Mudassir and addressed by famous nuclear physicist and activist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, feminist leader and organizer women democratic front Tooba Syed, and academic researcher and analyst, Tahir Naeem Malik. Second panel titled as “Climate Crisis and Flood Affected Students” was moderated by PrSF member Wajdan Iqbal and addressed by Baba Jan, leader Awami Workers Party Gilgit Baltistan, Dr. Ahsan Kamal and Saidal Khan Mandokhail from Quaid-i-Azam University. Third panel on “Student Politics in 21st Century” was moderated by secretary information PrSF, Shahalam Tariq and addressed by Dr. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar deputy general secretary Awami Workers Party, Dr. Ammar Ali Jan general secretary Haqooq-e-Khalq Party and Mustafa Tariq Wynne, student leader PrSF.

The speakers provided a more detailed analysis on the subject of ecological catastrophe as well as climate disasters, integral to the future of young people, their very lives and existence. In these past months around 33 million people in Pakistan have been displaced by floods and many have had to face great financial issues.

Many among them were youth and students that have had their suffering worsened due to an educational system which offered either no relief in fees, or a false promise of fee alleviation to the affected students, and no flexibility in such dire conditions. The individuals most badly affected were working class students who belonged to the peripheries, whose families either lost their livelihoods or were greatly affected financially, so much so that they had to fully rely on aid to survive.

The Climate question and how it relates to politico-economic structures not only on a local but also global context, of both imperialism and the capitalist mode of production is therefore central to our understanding of this crisis and how to counter it.

Speaking on the occasion, General Secretary of PrSF Isb-Rwp, Fatima Shahzad highlighted that students across Pakistan have been systematically weaned off progressive politics since the Zia dictatorship, and displaced by violent and bigoted state-sponsored thugs. The standard of education has declined drastically and the classist education system has further exacerbated inequality in education which carries forward to the job market.

PrSF Unit secretary, Mohsin Mudassir talked about how students are forced to sign an affidavit while enrolling at higher educational institutions that they will not partake in any political activity, thus alienating them from the affairs of the wider society.

He warned that this policy has had disastrous effects and that Pakistan’s current youth bulge – 150 million Pakistanis are under the age of 23 – demands that a conscious and progressive youth not only take an interest in but organize collectively to redress Pakistan’s many outstanding structural crises. In this regard, PrSF Isb-Rwp’s secretary information and broadcasting Shahalam Tariq demanded that the state lift the ban on student unions which has been upheld by the Supreme Court since 1993.

Mustafa Tariq Wynne, secretary of finance said that the only alternative for the youth is to organize in a revolutionary struggle against the systems that perpetuate and thrive on this exploitation, prioritizing their greed, above, and at the cost of the fundamental rights to education, health, housing, and recreation of the all of Pakistan’s people.

He said that students have always been at the forefront of political struggle, most notably against the Ayub dictatorship, and progressive ideals of equality of nations, genders and religions continue to inform the struggle of PrSF today. The speakers addressed a picture of what contemporary student politics in present conditions is capable of.

As well as as well as the possibility of revolutionary transformation that such a collective can bring forth. Students, have been on the frontlines of resistance movements everywhere. Whether it was anti-imperialist national liberation struggles, revolution, anti-war sentiments and protests, or civil rights movements throughout the 20th century. In Pakistan, the events of 1968 alone are testament to the political power organized students can wield, in unity with the working class and all oppressed groups in society.

However, the state’s decades long campaign of depoliticization and the rise of reactionary forces has changed the dynamics greatly since the time of the 60s. Today in the absence of Unions, organization building and practicing student politics in an era where it is demonized and met with hostility by state and society is a harsh reality facing our struggle.

Progressive Students Federation (PrSF) was founded on December 21, 2014 in Buner, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by left-wing socialist political leader Fanoos Gujjar. In 2015, PrSF Swat unit was established. In 2016, PrSF was started in Hyderabad, Sindh, after that PrSF units were formed in different cities of Sindh. In Islamabad, PrSF was started in 2017.

Progressive Students Federation is a continuation of National Students’ Federation (NSF), which was formed in 1956 after the Democratic Students Federation (DSF) was banned in 1954. DSF had been an active left-wing political force, which has struggled tirelessly for the rights of students. NSF played a major role in the popular student and labour uprising against the dictatorship in 1967 and 1968.

Ever since student unions were banned in 1984, students have been facing ever-increasing problems since the crackdown on left-wing politics and students’ organizations. Left-wing political activities that raise the issues faced by workers, women and students, are subjected to censorship by the authority. Keeping this context in mind, PrSF has paved the way for student politics again and has campaigned for their issues. The aim of PrSF is to raise political and social awareness among students so that they stand for their democratic rights.

Raja Furqan Ahmed

Raja Furqan Ahmed is the News Editor of The Pakistan Daily.

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