Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and are not necessarily representative of The LACAS Chronicles.
A-Level is weird.
Not quite an adult yet, and still very much reliant on your parents, you, the A Level student, are someone on the cusp of adulthood. Forty years ago, students your age used to be college students. And as college going students, they experienced the perils of Pakistan’s education far more closely, and far earlier than you do.
It goes without saying that the system of private education shields you from the realities of what-is-out-there; an expression commonly used to refer to the flaming inferno that welcomes anyone unfortunate enough to fall within the shackles of the Pakistani public education system at worst, and middle-class private education at still-pretty-bad. As a result of this placement, your social scenez are constructed in very particular ways. Your social life revolves around circuits of inter- and intra-school extracurricular activities; inter-school football tournaments, debate tournaments and MUNs. Half of elite Lahore lives in the following and followers tabs of your Instagram.
Very conveniently missing from this vast assemblage of both productive (and potentially harmful) gatherings is a space for politics. Part of the reason why is the association — at times deliberately generated within these institutions — of politics with both moral and financial gandagi and corruption. Good A-Level students from respectable families are expected to stand clear from the messiness of everyday life, and focus on what ‘really matters’: formal education, profile building, and securing a place at a good university. And so, ironically, the most well educated, well informed section of the population on whom — as political leaders love to remind us all — the future of the country depends, stand structurally outside any space that is political.
It is almost as if you are encouraged not to entrench yourself within the geography and politics of the world around you.
But you have the power to change that.
On the 29th of November, students across the country will march in what is essentially a mass student movement. These students, mostly from public universities, are marching against fee hikes, increasingly repressive surveillance systems, lack of quality education, sexism and misogyny in educational institutions — things that will affect us all. The reality is that despite pretensions of ‘being-better-than-this’ — save for a very small minority — most A Level students just like you end up at universities across Pakistan, where they encounter an increasingly bleak reality: a world in which neither merit, nor justice determines the state of affairs. Divorced from education that would train you to stand your ground, argue your point of view and take from the management what is rightfully yours, many students find themselves on the fringes of an already beleaguered political scene. Beleaguered because student politics within Pakistan has been squashed for the past three decades: formally in the form of bans on student unions, and informally in state suppression of independent student voices, disruption of political spaces and a general discouragement from the affairs of the world. The Student Solidarity March is a manifestation of a broader student demand for a greater say in the world of politics.
And this is not an extraordinary demand. Historically and structurally, student politics is to democracy as marriage is to family. It is hard to conceptualize one robust without the other. The Student Solidarity March on the 29th is effectively an exercise in democracy: to campaign for what is close to you. Adults who may discourage you from participating in politics for it being ‘too dangerous and dirty’ went to went to schools, colleges and university campuses that bloomed with political activity during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Students were key actors in the movement for democratic rights under Ayub and Zia. And why not? Only in the recent past, students have mobilized over harassment scandals at LUMS, University of Balochistan, Government College University, Punjab University and Forman Christian College; to name only a few. Others have been pursuing questions of student unions, living conditions on campuses and the ever-rising economic un-sustainability of education itself. Yet others are focused on questions of minority rights for ethnic as well as sectarian minorities. Within Lahore, the power of the students was evidently on display when just prior to the smog season, students from private schools across the country marched for climate. A-Level students are not above these issues. Very soon, you will be part of the very same system that makes life increasingly difficult. Within a democratic system, participation in student politics is how the system trains its next set of leaders. Indigenous political leaders are often first leaders in student politics. Without this avenue, political leadership falls frequently to the rich, the privileged, the men. One only needs to take a look at the history of Pakistan’s current political leadership to see this trend in action.
You can make a difference.
Only in the last year, students have played a key role in protests in Hong Kong against the oppressive powers of the Chinese state; in the U.S. against fascist right-wing movements as well as gun-violence in schools; in India against the right wing Modi government; and globally against climate inaction symbolized best by the figure of Greta Thunberg.
You, much like students elsewhere in the world, are responding to some of the greatest existential questions. As the future inhabitants of the planet, you probably have more right to a say in the shape of the planet than is currently given to you.
It is incumbent upon you to participate in these conversations, build connections and communities that extend outwards to others; who might not look like them, speak like them, but will probably be able to relate to the same issues as students elsewhere.
What-is-out-there is often a friend who we fail to recognize as such because of the blinding effect of the abstractions of class, caste, language and gender. At the very least, there is a need for a platform for political dialogue within your communities. In the past, one key institution in participation in politics for students was the student newspaper. Historically, student newspapers have been sites of dialogue, community and solidarity. Today, they lay dormant. Why? Consider the moral depression of our current moment.
Why are fees rising so fast? Why are our degrees increasingly worth less? What prospects are available to students? Why is there so little investment in the future of our country? What kind of gender politics do we have on educational campuses? Why do former abusers become department heads while former professors become inhabitants of solitary confinement?
If you were to not participate right now, you might look back at this moment when you were excluded and left unheard from a conversation that determined your futures.
So, come. The 29th of November is yours. March — and we will march with you.
About the author:
Ali Mehdi Zaidi is a former teacher of History and Politics at LACAS, where he taught for two years. He is a Fulbright scholar currently at the University of Washington where he is pursuing a Masters in South Asian Studies. His current research focuses on drug addiction and structural violence in Quetta.
About the editor:
Vaneeza Jawad served as the former Editor-in-Chief for The LACAS Chronicles. She is currently pursuing a History major at LUMS.