Right to protest, not strike

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Zaheer Bhatti

WHENEVER there are peaceful demonstrations to start with in Pakistan, they are invariably turned hostile with mishandling and high-headedness of law enforcing agencies particularly the Police. In the recent Karachi demo by the teachers, it was a terrible thing to see the mentors of Pakistan’s future generations being baton-charged and dragged by their hair and the scruff of their collars; shame is a small word for this indiscretion which happens every other day but no one at helm of affairs seems to be pushed to reform this awful behaviour of Force which alienates it further from people.
Not that other disciplines are not, but Education and Healthcare for all are the basic ingredients of a Social Welfare Order in any country worth its name, and being the responsibility of the State, successive Governments are obligated to ensure the same. A lot of lip service has been paid to this fundamental requirement in Pakistan by various Political Parties besides the so-called non-governmental organizations thriving on foreign funding but negligible accomplishment is seen on the ground by any of them except being complicit in fashioning an educational system with three faces i.e. vernacular official schooling, Deeni Madaris and the English medium private schools to the detriment of the woefully deprived majority in the country.
In Pakistan where ills of the society are attributed to lack of education, the Governments of the day are seen complaining of paucity of funds and resources to address these basic issues. For quite some time, the civilian set-up has taken cover by lamenting the Defence Forces for eating up major portion of the available kitty until a clarification by the Defence Establishment nailed the myth by declaring that at no stage despite threatening security environment, its share of National budget including Developmental and recurring administrative expenses, has ever exceeded 19%.
It goes without saying that neglect of these basic disciplines has been due to rank incompetence, corruption and lack of resolve and application to address these issues. The electronic media every other day expose the dilapidated look, plight and desolation of Government schools and dispensaries which for lack of basic facilities, have been turned into stables for animals, gamblers and addicts. It is unfortunate that while successive governments have failed to even provide clean drinking water and adequate health facilities to the population by way of hospitals and affordable medication, they have been apathetic to abounding spurious drugs besides frequent strikes by Doctors and paramedics literally paralysing the health sector.
But Education has been the worst sufferer with Governments of the day not only unable to wipe out ghost schools and provide adequate staff, equipment and revamp the premises of existing schools but failing to raise more with a uniform curriculum and standard of education to keep pace with increased schooling requirement in the current age. The fact that even meagre funds allocated have often been allowed to lapse, points to the state of inaction and indifference by the State machinery to this all important National sector. Instead, Governments have been abdicating their responsibility by allowing the private sector to turn this essential service into a roaring business, which at best should only have been allowed to function to supplement the Government effort at affordable fees. It is unfortunate that the voluntarily set up millions of religious schools across the Country under the umbrella of Wafaq-ul-Madaris, which with modest financial assistance, consultation and close monitoring could have been brought into the mainstream by standardizing their syllabus with other schools in the Country thereby broadening the National educational base, have instead been indiscriminately branded as nurseries of extremists and alienated from the Society. There was immense scope to set up mosque primary schools by availing the premises of millions of mosques across the country, but no one has ever bothered or made an effort.
On top of it as the present Government in the Punjab Province even as a half measure attempted to regulate the vastly enhanced fee structure in private schools, their management Body had the audacity to resort to strikes and close down the schools causing direct harm to students whose parents are already paying through their nose. Very few are aware that while most privately run and funded schools and colleges follow an alien curriculum often at cross-purposes to National requirements, they charge prohibitive fees from students but pay hopelessly low remunerations to their otherwise highly qualified staff. Teaching is one profession which is highly paid and respected in developed Countries, but is at the lowest and most exploited ebb in Pakistan.
To quote a leading private school system in the Country as do most others, they charge a nursery-going toddler, a minimum 10 to 15 thousand Rupees per month but pay an M.A/M.Sc teacher around Rs 30,000/= pm only. This is exploitation of a community which could well be forced to run tuition centres at the expense of attention to enrolled students as is the case with most under-paid teachers in the public sector. The sooner the private school owners attend to do justice to Staff remunerations, the better for them and their future if they wish the Government not to also intervene on this count.
The Government must declare Educational Emergency and enhance its own capacity to provide free and uniform schooling to all children in the Country up to tenth grade, which means taking tangible steps to overhaul the educational sector and translate their political rhetoric into reality. It must concurrently enact legislation outlawing strikes in the health and education sectors besides key installations and Essential Services such as Aviation, Railways, Shipping, Telecommunications, Broadcasting and Defence Industries.
The joke has already gone too far with vested interests bringing the socio-economic sector to a grinding halt at will besides all and sundry causing shutter-down strikes. Every citizen of the Country individually and by association must by all means have the right to protest and or go to Labour Courts for redress of their grievances, but they have no business to halt the socio-economic wheel of the Country, which amounts to black mailing the sitting Governments both at the Provincial and Federal level besides displaying apathy to these direly essential social sectors. Doctors, paramedics and teachers are supposed to be the architects of future generations and should never resort to strikes come what may, nor should those serving the afore-mentioned disciplines.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran former Director of programmes.

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