Baloch students’ foot march: Walk with stumbling feet

Abdul Hameed Khan is a resident of Dalbandin District, Balochistan, a backward area on the Quetta-Iran Highway. The nearest university is 340 km away in Quetta. Their only source of livelihood is a small grocery store which income is so limited that they cannot afford to send their children to such a distant university and to study and live there.

But three years ago, when his son Arsalan Hameed reached the age to apply for university, Abdul Hameed Khan did not have to worry about the expenses as the Punjab government was running a special program for students living in Balochistan. Not only were they provided free education and accommodation in several major universities in Punjab, but they were also given a monthly stipend of Rs. 5,000 for food and drink.

These universities included Punjab University Lahore, Government College University Lahore, Lahore College for Women University, Bahauddin Zakaria University Multan, Ghazi University Dera Ghazi Khan, Islamia University Bahawalpur and Gujarat University.

It has been five days since the students started the long march. 

Arsalan Hameed chosed Bahauddin Zakaria University in Multan for himself, where he began studying politics. His ultimate goal was to become part of the bureaucracy by passing a competitive exam.

But now that he is in the final year of his four-year degree, the university has abruptly abolished the concessions given to him because, according to the university administration, the Punjab government has slashed the budget for higher education, which has been met. To do so, the university has no choice but to charge all students for their tuition fees without exception.

This decision will not only affect 280 Baloch students studying at Bahauddin Zakaria University, but will also deprive many more Baloch students from studying here in the future.

The students are in high spirits despite the severe physical difficulties encountered during the march. 

Baloch students studying in other universities in Punjab are also facing a similar situation. For example, a few weeks ago, the Punjab University reduced the number of seats reserved for them by 50% to reduce their expenses. Did Although 20 per cent of the seats have since been restored due to protests by Baloch students, the restored seats have been reserved for Baloch women only.

Islamia University Bahawalpur has even canceled the hostel registration of Baloch students studying under government concessions. They have been informed that they can now get a room in the hostel only by paying money.

This situation has put the Baloch students studying in these educational institutions in a difficult position as they cannot leave their education incomplete and their parents cannot afford to pay for their education and accommodation. ۔ These expenses amount to about 12,000 per month, which is a huge amount for people living in areas like Dalbandin who are deprived of financial resources and employment opportunities.

Pedestrians camp on vacant land by the side of the road.

Student march

To draw attention to this issue, Baloch students of Bahauddin Zakaria University started protesting in front of the main entrance of the university on September 1, 2020, but despite 40 days of continuous protests, when the university administration did not listen to their voices, 35 Nearby students started marching from Multan to Islamabad on foot.

The march has been going on for five days and its participants are now passing around Sahiwal city.

The day before, when the marching students camped on the road outside a hotel near Chichawatni town in Sahiwal district to spend the night, most of them had injured their feet due to constant walking.

Students’ feet have been injured as a result of walking for several days in a row.

Arsalan Hameed is the central organizer of this march. Sitting in a blanket on the ground and cleaning his injured feet, he told that he and his companions travel all day and sometimes sleep by the roadside and sometimes in a small hotel at night. According to him, no government official or any representative of the university administration has contacted him yet.
On the other hand, speaking on Dawn News television talk show ‘Zara Hat Ky’ three days ago, Balochistan government spokesman Liaquat Shahwani claimed that the Balochistan provincial administration would pay all the education expenses of all such Baloch students studying in Punjab. Whose education is being hampered by the abolition or reduction of financial concessions.

To implement this statement, the Balochistan government issued an order on the night of October 14 stating that the Balochistan administration would provide funds for the educational and accommodation expenses of Bahauddin Zakaria University students who are already there. They are studying under the Punjab government’s concessional scheme.

Students say they will go on hunger strike in Islamabad if their demands are not met

March participants are not satisfied with the order. Jayend Baloch, one of them, says that the Balochistan government is only willing to pay the expenses of the students currently studying, while we demand that all the incentives be provided to the newcomers as well as the Baloch who studied in Punjab before.

“The money allocated under the order is not a permanent solution to our problem as it will only cover the expenses of a few students already studying,” he added

Arsalan Hameed also says that his march will continue till all his demands are approved. He said that he and his associates would reach Islamabad and stage a sit-in in front of the National Press Club and if they were not heard there, they would go for hunger strike