As Sindh’s college teachers continue to protest for long overdue salaries and promotions, their students backed them up by arguing that this has become the only way to be heard in Pakistan.
“The teachers are doing the right thing,” said Sumera Ashraf, a student at DJ Science College. She said that the teachers have not missed a single class since the protest started, with the exception of the day when the police clamped down on their peaceful protest with water cannons and baton charge.
Ahmer Ashraf, a media sciences student at Karachi University, had more perspective to offer. “Today our teachers are protesting, tomorrow it will be some of us. It’s important to fight for a cause, rather than worrying about the symptoms.” He felt that in most cases, protests are related to embezzlement and injustice, ‘which have become acceptable in our society.’
Other students did not know what the fuss was about. “To be honest, I learnt our teachers were protesting when I read the paper,” said Essa Shahbaz, a student at Quaidabad Degree College.
As for the students, they were deliberately kept out of the “circus” as one teacher called it. “There were many who volunteered to join us in our sit-in here at DJ College but we refused,” said another teacher.
Many students were shocked to learn that their teachers had not been paid for months. “Usually the situation at government colleges is deplorable,” said Shumaila Waseem, a Government College Malir student. She said that at most government schools, classes are cancelled for months before exams and teachers do not bother to show up. “But this college is different because of our teachers, who continued to teach for months without getting paid.”
In November, a group of teachers approached the chief secretary to discuss the problems they faced. “We were told that notifications for the recruitment of teachers to new postings would be issued by November 25. The chief minister simply had to sign it to turn it into a law,” said Mirza Athar Hussain, the president of the Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association. The teachers waited three months and came out to protest on March 15, only to be beaten with batons by the police. “The only thing you will see with us are the pen that we have in our pockets,” said Hussain. “And that was enough reason for the police to beat us black and blue as if we were criminals.”
The police crackdown on the protest has had its effect. A day after the baton-charge, tear gas and water cannon, teachers and lecturers from colleges across Sindh continued to gather in front of DJ Science College. While the atmosphere was charged, with the teachers shouting slogans against injustice, an abrupt silence cut through as a shrill siren was heard approaching. The jittery teachers thought it was a police mobile but when they saw an ambulance pass, they laughed sheepishly and went back to shouting.
According to the teachers, the strike will continue for five more days but they are hopeful of a meeting with the chief minister again on March 24.
For their part, some students said that it did not make sense that the government had waited eight years to promote 2,200 teachers recently. This trend has alerted them to the bureaucratic delays.
“The few days turned out to be a few weeks and at present it’s been three months,” said Munir Hussain, a teacher of Zoology, at Government Liaquat Girls College, Malir. Frustration forced hundreds of teachers to finally do away “with formal meetings and talks” and take to the streets in full force.
“I have been a teacher for 32 years now,” said Zafar Rizvi of the Karachi SPLA, showing his injuries and asking if this is what he deserved.
“There should be 40 students per class, according to international standards,” said Faisal Karim Ahmed, a lecturer at Quaidabad Degree College. “But here we are forced to cram as many as 80 students into one class. This is bound to make anyone mad.”
There are 10,600 budgeted posts for teachers in Sindh, out of which 6,200 is the working strength. This means there is a shortage of 4,400 teachers. “At times, there are teachers who work extra hours and teach subjects they are not at all qualified for. And we are the rotten eggs?”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2011.