Why students of BMC are resisting

The BUHMS student protests offer many lessons for the government of Balochistan, writes Adnan Aamir

Why students of BMC are resisting
On February 24, a group of students from Bolan University Medical and Health Sciences (BUHMS) gathered in front of Balochistan Assembly for a protest. They chanted slogans against the administration of the university and demanded amendments in BUHMS Act 2017. Soon the police came in action and arrested these students. It was the first time in Quetta that female student protesters were arrested by the police.

These female students were taken to a police station nearby. A picture of these students went viral on social media. They were sitting in a huddle, their faces covered with veils in accordance with local customs. All of them had made a victory sign with their fingers while this photo was taken. As the photo began making rounds on social media, people from all walks of life condemned the provincial government. Within a few hours the students were released but this episode marked a new low in the history of Quetta.

Among the arrested students was Mahrang Baloch, a final year student of MBBS at BUHMS, who has become the face of this protest. She was also at the forefront of the protests after the blackmailing scandal which surfaced in the University of Balochistan last year. During this current protest, Mahrang appeared to be the most vocal critic of the university administration and the chancellor of the university who is the governor of Balochistan. In an outspoken interview given to Balochistan Voices, a few days before the protest, she said the governor of Balochistan had failed to resolve the BUHMS crisis.

The demands of the students are related to the way BUHMS, the province’s only medical university, is governed by its VC. Bolan Medical College (BMC) was established as the first medical institute in the province in the 1970s. Since then, it has been the primary source of medical practitioners in Balochistan. In 2017, BMC was upgraded into BUHMS through an act of the provincial assembly. Problems began to surface when the BUHMS started functioning with its new setup under the control of the governor of Balochistan.

The new administration of BUHMS abolished the district quota system, which for decades had ensured equal opportunity to candidates from poorer districts of Balochistan. Tuition and hostel fees increased. Students used to receive scholarships in the form of monthly stipends which was also cut down by the administration. There were numerous complaints of irregularities in the entry test for admission to the university. As a result, BUHMS became a battleground of protests and not a medical education institute.

The administration of the university also tried to dislodge house officers of BMC who were living in the hostels. That entire episode was recorded on camera and made rounds on social media, which resulted in widespread condemnations for the provincial government and the BUHMS administration.

After their release, the female students again went outside the Balochistan Assembly and started a sit-in protest for their demands. The students stayed outside Balochistan Assembly overnight and brought their own quilts to brave the cold weather of Quetta. During this day-long sit-in, Mahrang Baloch was again at the forefront of the protests, requesting people all over Pakistan, through social media, to express solidarity with the protesting students of BUHMS.

The next morning the administration of the university caved in and partly accepted some of the demands of the students. The increase in fees for tuition and hostels was reversed. The administration also committed to amending the BUHMS Act within the next 40 days. This resulted in students calling off the protest. But this is just a temporary break and the protest is likely to continue after 40 days.

Now, the BUHMS student protests offer many lessons for the government of Balochistan. First, the government should be sensitive to the protests of the students. Protesting is a democratic right of every citizen and arresting the students, especially females, should not be acceptable at all. Such arrests do nothing but give a bad name to the government because the arrested protestors have to be released soon due to public pressure.

Secondly, the problem lies in the BUHMS law which must be amended immediately, as demanded by the protesting students. BUHMS should only be a degree-awarding institute to all medical colleges in the province. It should not be involved in the day-to-day administrative matters of the medical colleges. Likewise, the old BMC should be restored, which would deal with the administrative and educational matters of students. This will reduce the power and influence of the VC and improve the quality of the education of this institute.

The BUHMS issue can’t be isolated from the plight of higher education institutes in the province. The reason these institutes are suffering is that they are under control of one office – Governor’s Secretariat. This authoritarian system is the root cause of all problems in universities in the province. The only way out is to democratise the higher education sector in Balochistan by forming a provincial higher education commission. This will take back the control of universities from the governor and hand it over to a more inclusive commission answerable to the assembly of province. If this particular change is not made then protests in all major universities will continue to happen in the foreseeable future.

The writer is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached on twitter @iAdnanAamir