UNITY IS OUR WEAPON an article from Student’s Herald

Beena Sarwar
Film maker, journalist and activist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contributed by : Beena Sarwar

By MOHAMMAD SARWAR
President, Democratic Students’ Federation

As I sit to write about our glorious struggle for a better ducation and for a better future my mind is flooded with scenes – inspiring and poignant – which I will never forget. For how can I forget the mighty demonstrations of January 7 and 8, by thousands of disciplined students. How can I erase from my memory the tear-gassing, lathi-charging and firing during the three days that shook not only Karachi but the whole of Pakistan?  I can never forget the spontaneous support of the people and press of Pakistan for the right and just cause of students of Karachi.

I am writing this article with the mingled feelings of joy and grief. Joy for our great victory and grief for those who gave their lives during this painful struggle. When some day the history of the student movement will be written, as I am sure it will be, the names of those who fell martyrs will be printed in letters of gold. They will live in our memories as no one else has lived so far. Their sacrifices will always remain enshrined in our hearts.

And now when a settlement has been reached between the Prime Minister and the students I trust and hope that the authorities will do nothing which will affect the goodwill created. On our part we can assure the Prime Minister that it was never our intention to create any trouble. It is proved by the fact that despite grave provocations the students throughout the fortnight acted with restraint and showed better understanding than some of the officials of the Karachi Administration. The students appreciate that the Prime Minister eventually accepted their demands and saved the situation from taking a bad shape. However, I wish the Prime Minister could have taken personal interest in the matter before January 8 and if he had done so many precious lives would have been saved.

My idea in writing this article is to assess the situation as it stands today. For it is imperative to let you know in brief the background of the ‘Demands Day’. Since the inception of the Democratic Students’ Federation about two years ago, the DSF started drawing the attention of the authorities towards the deplorable educational condition that existed in Karachi. The DSF passed resolutions, held meetings and asked the Government to reduce the exorbitant tuition and examination fees. We asked the authorities to build more hostels and more than anything we appealed to the students to unite for fighting for their elementary rights and demands. While the authorities refused to pay any heed to what we said the students slowly and gradually started realizing their responsibility. A definite consciousness grew among them.

They started thinking as to how to get their demands conceded. They wanted to fight for their just demands but too many students’ organisations bewildered them. The official College unions were monopolised mostly by persons who just did not bother about the students’ welfare. They belonged to a class which was busy grinding its own axe.

Such was the situation till the last session. But this year things changed. Realising the fact that if their lot had to be bettered they must elect office-bearers to the unions who were their genuine representatives, they elected many honest and sincere students as office-bearers of different college unions. This was the first step in the right direction.

These elected representatives had to justify the trust reposed in them. An Inter-Collegiate Body consisting of all Vice-Presidents and General Secretaries of the Karachi College Unions was formed. It started its work and made it very clear to the Vice-Chancellor, who was all the time trying to disrupt it, that the ICB meant business.

As the days went by our campaign for better education caught momentum. In the meantime, the disruptive forces were not sitting idle. They were busy in planning and intriguing. The Vice-Presidents of Urdu and Law Colleges betrayed the students and succeeded though for a little while in misleading some other members.

In order to focus the attention of the authorities on the sorry state of affairs existing in Karachi colleges the DSF decided to observe ‘Demands Day’. Then the ICB took up this matter and in co-operation with the DSF made preparations for the day. We made repeated attempts to meet the Education Minister but on somebody’s advice he gave us a cold shoulder. Our intention was to observe  ‘Demands Day’ in the beginning of December but as the Education Minister was going to London to attend the Commonwealth Conference the ICB postponed it. What happened on January 7 and how the ICB frantically tried to meet the Education Minister is a matter of recent happening and all of us know it very well. Hence there is no need to mention in detail the events that took place during those days.

In fairness to the General Secretaries of Law College Union and Commerce College Union I must say that though they were not with us on January 7, they realised their mistake after the lathi-charge and tear-gassing of students’ procession and since then they have worked tirelessly and fearlessly for the common cause. By their work after January 7, they made amends for their past attitude which had helped only the enemies of the student movement.

However, there are some lessons that we have learnt from this struggle. The first and foremost thing is that discipline and unity in our ranks is indispensable. Never before was such unity achieved among the students as this time. The reason for this united action was that while drawing up the demands we kept one thing in view. That was the general welfare of the students. Let us always remember that if we are united and strong nothing can stop us from winning our demands. The students deserve congratulations for standing united. Attempts were made to disrupt the unity of the students by raising the communist bodey but the students saw through this oft-repeated and stale game and refused to fall a prey to it. Let us guard our unity and I may tell the students here that such vile attempts will be made in future also but they should refuse to succumb to any such move whether it comes from the Chief Commissioner of Karachi or from some so-called student leaders who after lying low for some time have already reverted to their old game.

The second lesson that we have learnt is that if our demands are just and right we will have the co-operation of the public as well as the press. In fact in addition to unity in our ranks what enabled us to win most of our demands was this support from the general public and the press.

Another important thing which emerged out of this struggle was the great role played by the High School Students’ Federation in mobilising the school students in our favour. Had it not been for the active and close co-operation of this organisation it would have been somewhat difficult for the ICB to enlist the support of school students. I am confident that the school student wil organise and strengthen this organisation which will play a great role in their own sphere. To the college students I would say, “help and encourage the school boys and they will prove great allies”.

This struggle also brought out the fact that our sisters do not lag behind. The students of Women’s College and St. Joseph’s Convent did not cooperate with us in the beginning but they came out in open support after January 7. What held them back probably was their shyness, fear and apprehension. However, the artificial wall of seclusion was swept away as the student movement marched forward. And to the surprise of many the students of Women’s College and St. Joseph’s Convent went on strike and fought against their foreign principals of both the colleges whose behaviour was anything but dignified. I request the girl students through these columns that they should not allow themselves to be rusted in the four walls of their college compounds and participate in every sphere of student life. Without them no student movement can be complete and I am confident that they will not allow their principals to stand in their way.

This struggle has also brought into the forefront the dire need of an all-Pakistan students’ organisation. The student movement is quite strong in East Pakistan and by organising a students’ organisation on an all-Pakistan basis the students of both wings can come closer, learn from each other’s experiences. The Inter-Collegiate Body has already given a call for a convention to be held very soon. We must work earnestly to make the proposed convention a success for in it lies our future welfare.

I must again congratulate the students on their great victory. Let not the lesson be forgotten that it was due to unity in our ranks that we succeeded. However, even after this victory there is no room for complacency. We have to work hard and organise the students. We have to raise our standards both mentally and materially. And for this we have to work ceaselessly. We have to keep in mind our studies also. Let no one raise his finger and say that the students of today are not very qualified. Our struggle for better studies means that we have to register an all round progress.

Last but not least we have to continue the word started by the ICB Relief Committee. We must provide financial and legal aid to the members of the public who suffered for our cause. We cannot and will not forget them.

Long Live Student Unity!

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