A Year of Protests
A Year of Protests. Ahmed Raza Hashmi

“Kal bhi hakim zalim tha, aaj bhi hakim zalim hai”: A Year of Protests

A year of protests in Lahore: a photoessay by Ahmed Raza Hashmi

 

It’s a warm winter day. The sun is out. The sky is hazy. It’s 2019. There are about a 100 people marching with flags and fists in the air on the iconic Mall Road in Lahore. The protestors are surrounded by colonial-era architecture and, it would seem by their chant, also by colonial-era oppression.

 

کل بھی حاکم ظالم تھا

 آج بھی حاکم ظالم ہے

 

With this chant echoing in the air, it is difficult to not view the history of Pakistan as the history of oppressors and the oppressed. The history books tell us that we achieved freedom in 1947.

With this chant echoing in the air, the question arises: what was achieved?

This is a story of a year of resistance.

Police Line
A line of policemen at the Shehri Tahaffuz March. Photo: Ahmed Raza Hashmi

 

ظلم کے یہ ضابطے

ہم نہیں مانتے

13 Apr 2018: March for Mashal

Mashal Khan was a student of Abdul Wali Khan university in Mardan, KPK, Pakistan. He was killed on 13 April 2017, on-campus by his fellow students over false blasphemy accusations. Mashal was 23 years old. He was in Journalism school, and wrote poetry in Pashto.

Progressive Students Collective, alongside other human rights activist organizations, held a march at the Lahore Press Club for the right of life and freedom of expression.

mashal khan poster
A protestor holds up a Mashal poster at the March for Mashal. 13th April 2018. Photo: Ahmed Raza Hashmi

This march was a performance in honor of Mashal’s life and death.

There was a theatrical play by activists; their faces painted red and black; recounting Mashal’s murder. There was the beat of a drum. The sound of Mashal’s name in everybody’s ears. There was a photo of Mashal, held up high, right alongside a photo of Asma Jahangir, Pakistan’s foremost human rights lawyer.

This march was a remembrance of a soul silenced, and a proclamation by souls still loud.


Mudabbir Ali energises a crowd of protestors. Photos: Ahmed Raza Hashmi.
If you want to find Mudabbir Ali at any march or demonstration, look for a man on the front lines with his fist in the air, his voice loud, and red in his outfit. Originally from the Gilgit-Baltistan region, Mudabbir moved to Lahore about 5 years ago, where he studied at Government College University. According to Mudabbir, he felt a lack of critical discourse that led him to the leftist study circles on campus grounds. He felt the need for physical activism, to break out of online spaces and find real spaces to organize; he is a part of the Progressive Students Collective, and works at the Human Rights Commission Pakistan.

 

سندھ بلوچستان تو کب سے روتے ہیں

اور اہل پنجاب ابھی تک سوتے ہیں

18 July 2018: In Solidarity with Mastung & Peshawar

In the run up to the Pakistan General Elections, suicide bombings ripped through Balochistan and KPK, killing over a 100 people including Siraj Raisani, well-known Baloch politician and injuring more than 200 people. Although various terrorist organizations claimed responsibility for these attacks, this was not the first time Siraj and other Baloch and Pashtun politicians were targeted for assassinations.

On 18 July 2018, Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement held a demonstration at Liberty Roundabout, Lahore, to show solidarity with the Baloch and Pashtun peoples, and to demand the state to take steps to protect all its citizens.

protestor pakistan lahore
An activist delivers a speech at Liberty Roundabout. Photo: Ahmed Raza Hashmi

It had rained the day before. It looked like it might rain that day too; the air was still and damp. The sky was unsure what to do. The demonstrators had gathered for a two-fold tragedy: one, the terrible scale of the loss of life, and two, the lack of media coverage of it. While most of the news media was concerned with who was going to win the elections race, the people at Liberty Roundabout that day were concerned with those who had lost their lives in this race, and those who might lose them still.

While the Mashal protest was scored by the beating of a drum and the chant of his name, this one was mostly silent. This demonstration was a lament.

protest in pakistan
A group of young activists listen closely to the speeches. Photo: Ahmed Raza Hashmi

Zahid Ali. Photos: Ahmed Raza Hashmi
Zahid Ali. Photos: Ahmed Raza Hashmi
Hailing from Sahiwal, Zahid Ali is a man on a mission. He says he wants to create a network of activists across Lahore that can be called upon to participate in human rights campaigns. Zahid moved to Lahore in 2011, and got his start in activism in 2014 after he saw people congregating at the Liberty Roundabout for victims of the APS Peshawar Massacre. Zahid is a member of Progressive Students Collective, and Haqooq-e-Khalq movement, and works at LUMS as a research fellow.

 

پاور پاور

طلبہ پاور

30 Nov 2018: Students’ Solidarity March

On 04 October 2018, Baloch student, Saifullah Jamali killed himself in front of his university’s entrance gate. His family and friends maintain that Jamali was driven to commit suicide because of a professor who bullied him over his ethnicity and repeatedly failed him in class.

30 Nov 2018: The Progressive Students Collective held a protest march at Mall Road, Lahore to demand rights for students and transparency from the administration. They had 17 demands, including but not limited to: lifting the ban on student unions, formation of committees to deal with sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and at least one mental health counselor for every educational institute.

red flag at protest in paksitan
The resistance is red. Photo: Ahmed Raza Hashmi

The sun was high, the air was warm, and the crowd was fiery. This march was an exhibition of emotions.

There was camaraderie: the marchers would stop in front of the many educational institutes on Mall Road, and urge their fellow students to come out and join the march. Every new set of comrades to join was met with thunderous applause.

There was anguish: the marchers resented how they’d been treated by their educational institutions. According to them, instead of being educated against prejudice, they’d been discriminated against for their ethnicity, and gender. Instead of being encouraged to be independent thinkers, they’d been indoctrinated against dissent.

There was longing: The marchers’ every chant and clamor was a call to the state to not forget about them. The march ended with a sit-in at Charing Cross; the name reminding everyone of their place in a post-colonial era.

Students clap and cheer at a protest. Photo: Ahmed Raza Hashmi

Umar Rasheed. Picture: Ahmed Raza Hashmi
Umar Rasheed. Photos: Ahmed Raza Hashmi
Umar Rasheed travelled from Faisalabad to Lahore to attend the Students Solidarity March, and brought along 12 of his comrades. Umar got his start in activism in Grade 10 through a local leftist newspaper. That was over a decade ago. Over these years, Umar has read and recommended his favorite book, the Communist Manifesto, numerous times. Umar was a member of the Inqilabi Council Student Organization at the University of Agriculture Faisalabad. In 2011, Umar was arrested for leading a march for students’ rights. Umar continues his activism and to believe in the struggle against injustice. Umar is now a part of Revolutionary Students Front (RSF).

 

لاٹھی گولی کی سرکار

نہیں چلے گی نہیں چلے گی

10 Feb 2019: Shehri Tahaffuz March

On 19 January 2019, police open fired at a car in Sahiwal, and killed 4 people (a couple Khalil and Nabila, their daughter Areeba, and their friend Zeeshan). The couple’s three other children were also in the car, but they survived. The police has changed their stance multiple times, first claiming that the parents were kidnappers, then claiming that they were terrorists, then claiming that the police was fired upon first, and lastly claiming that only Zeeshan was a terrorist.

The surviving children and all eyewitness accounts have denied all these claims.
On 10 Feb 2019, Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement held a march at Mall Road, Lahore to show solidarity with the Sahiwal survivors, and against police brutality and to demand the state to protect all its citizens.

older man at protest pakistan
Dr. Anjum Saleemi. The protests are not limited to students. There are people of all ages. Photo: Ahmed Raza Hashmi
This march was a reminder of the dangers of living in a security state. In the front row of the march were the bereaved from the police encounter in Sahiwal. The marchers were flanked on both sides by police in riot gear. The police were being flanked on both sides by colonial-era buildings. It was an uneasy juxtaposition.

Mohiba Ahmed. Pictures: Ahmed Raza Hashmi
Mohiba Ahmed. Photos: Ahmed Raza Hashmi

With her endless energy, spirited speeches, and powerful presence, Comrade Mohiba Ahmed is a force to be reckoned with. One of the biggest problems with the Pakistani education system, she claims, is that it is producing a politically passive society. But she’s well aware of how easy it is to fall into the trap of being a passive and apathetic observer. She can’t expect anyone to speak up for her rights if she doesn’t do it herself first. Mohiba graduated from Government College University in Lahore, and is now a part of the visiting faculty. She is also a member of Progressive Students Collective, Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement and Women’s Collective.


In a city of 11 million, the resistance is a handful of people. Regardless of the face of the oppressor: be it other people, other institutions or the state. Theirs is a fight for the right to life, a life with dignity and a life in peace.

Join this fight. Show up. Speak up.

To find oppression around you, you need not look beyond the plight of women in your life. Join the Aurat March at Lahore Press Club, on 08 March 2019.

A Year in Pakistani Protest. Photos: Ahmed Raza Hashmi
A Year in Pakistani Protests. Photos: Ahmed Raza Hashmi

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