The right to protest

On Wednesday, the varsity guards in Punjab University, with the help of the police, under the supervision of the Vice Chancellor’s advisor Colonel Ikramullah, manhandled students belonging to the Institute of Mycology Plant Pathology for protesting against the non-recognition of their degrees by the Higher education Commission (HEC). These students had been conducting peaceful protests for nine months on the issue. As a result of this manhandling, eight students tried to immolate themselves out of sheer frustration and humiliation. Similarly, on the very same day, the Airport Security Force personnel of Jinnah International Airport baton-charged the employees of PIA for protesting against PIA’s negotiations with Turkish Airlines to forego some of PIA’s most lucrative routes.

These two instances show the authoritative mindset we possess as a state and society.
Both these protests were carried out peacefully within the purview of the law. What then what was the need for this violence? On the one hand, we claim to be a democracy, in which freedom of speech and peaceful assembly is an inherent right, and on the other hand we deal with peaceful protests with official violence. Is this how other democratic states deal with protests in their countries? No, they listen to reason, present their opinions and try to solve the problem instead of silencing with batons those who are merely demanding their rights.

We should seriously think about whether our attitude is compatible with the current system of governance in our country. What further exposes this authoritative mindset is the fact that on Colonel Ikramullah’s instruction, the guards not only thrashed the students but also did not allow the media to cover the protest and forcefully held in custody two media representatives. Perhaps Pakistan has seen so many military dictators and authoritarian dispensations that now a dictatorial mindset has become the hallmark of our society. This mindset may have its roots in the colonial era, but subsequent dictatorial regimes have nurtured and consolidated it over the years. Why is it that we are unable to educate people in power that protesting is not an abomination but a right? It seems like the only way to get heard in Pakistan is by setting oneself alight! – Dailytimes