Thirsty for Knowledge: Student Hunger Strike in Kabul

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Female students too taking part in protests and hunger strike

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Hunger strike under the sun.

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About 70 students in hunger strike.

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After the today rain in Kabul, students are coverd under a plastic.

A large group of male and female students from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Kabul University have been in hunger strike and in a sit-in protest near the parliament building since May 20. They number around 70 and all of them are Hazaras. So far, about 30 of them have been  hospitalized.  Not only the international media has ignored the event, even the non- Hazara Afghan media, in particular Tolo and Ariana TVs have turned a blind eye on the ongoing protest which has been the central topic in Afghan blogsphere and social networking sites for the last week (interestingly, the owners of both TV stations are Shia, but they are very cautious to keep away from anything related to the Hazaras).

The students protest against ethnic discrimination, corruption and the “illiteracy” of the teaching staff in the faculty, and in particular, they demand the removal of Farouq Abdulla the dean (the same guy who physically assaulted a Hazara female student in 2011) and Faisal Amin one of the faculty members from the university. It’s the first time that a student protest is centered on the reformation of universities rather than on political or religious issues which have been more common in the past.

Unlike other faculties at KU, about 80 percent of the students at Social Science faculty (who got admissions through a national entrance exam, Konkor) are Hazaras. This faculty which houses the departments of Philosophy and Sociology, Archeology and History, has been the main destination for many Hazrara students who come mostly from central provinces.

According to the students, the professors have been systematically trying to fail the Hazara students en mass and repeatedly so, in order to make them drop the university. The majority of teachers don’t have a degree higher than a BA from KU, therefore, their knowledge of the subjects they teach is extremely limited. They use failing grades as a weapon against students who appear to know more than themselves.

This kind of corruption is a common issue in all the 14 faculties of KU, but the students at Social Sciences are naturally more vocal, as they are (supposed to be) the future philosophers and social thinkers of this country, for whom, reasoning and questioning would be part of their job description.

According to sources close to Arg, Hamid Karzai has summoned Osman Baburi the deputy Minister of Higher Education for an explanation. Baburi who is a notorious anti-Hazara figure from Herat,  accused the students of being dishonest and took side with the university’s corrupt profs and administrators. Karzai, apparently believed him.

Authorities from Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee have visited the protestors and have shared the findings of their investigation about Kabul University, confirming that ethnic discrimination is a widespread issue there and profs tend to grade the students based on ethnic, linguistic and religious affiliation.

Different groups of politicians and activists from every ethnic group have given the students a visit for solidarity, among them, the speaker and many members of parliament, community activists from NGOs and some journalists. A group of musicians and poets even organised a nuit blanche on Thursday night at the site of the protest.

According to recent news, groups of students in Daikundi and Herat have organised rallies in support of the Kabul students. This is becoming a national issue.

It seems that a new and genuine grassroots movement is taking shape directly in response to the everyday problems of the ordinary people. Unlike most of other rallies in Kabul, they are not funded by foreign NGOs and they don’t care about fancy slogans attractive for international media. Their demands are simple and real: knowledge and the equal opportunity for everyone to pursue it.

Note:

All photos from the official Facebook page of the student protest.