Visibly frustrated by the government’s inaction to stop frequent protest demonstrations from taking place on Charing Cross of Mall Road, traders and local vendors of the area have decided to take the matters in their own hands from Monday (tomorrow).
The Charing Cross Chowk has become a permanent pain in the neck for commuters and traders of Mall Road because of unabated protests being staged by different groups every other day despite the imposition of Section 144 in the area. Section 144 bars holding of protest rallies and political gatherings in the area but the district administration and Lahore police are clearly helpless in implementing the Lahore High Court’s decision in this regard.
The recent protest is being staged by teachers who have gathered under the umbrella of Punjab Teachers Union (PTU) to protest against the government’s plan to privatise public schools in the province.
Young Nurses Association (YNA)’s sit-in was in progress when the teachers started gathering outside the Punjab Assembly on Friday. However, on Friday night nurses ended their sit-in after the government assured them that their problems would be resolved. The protest had started on Monday but the authorities kept delaying negotiations which made the protesters suffer in scorching heat, and added to the commuters and traders’ problems.
The protesting teachers are demanding the government to change its policy of privatisations of public schools as it’s a matter of the future of students. They claim that the policy of privatisation is to provide benefits to the rich and to create class difference among the society. They said that they would boycott the schools if their demands are not met.
PTU Chairman Rai Ghulam Mustafa Riaz, while talking to Pakistan Today said that the government had assured them at various times that no policy of privatisation will be reconsidered but despite assurance 10,000 schools have been privatized in the province in first phase while it is committed to privatize 53,000 more schools in the province. He said that government had been giving “lollypops” in past but now they would not stop their sit-in without accepting their demands.
PTU Lahore President Syeda Iqbal told Pakistan Today that so far no government representative has come to negotiate with them. She said that on Friday Secretary Education Abdul Jabbar Shaheen just contacted via phone and asked to end the protest.
When asked about the problems citizens are facing because of the protest, she replied that citizen should also come and join them in their fight against the anti-education government. Syeda said that there is no split between teachers and all factions of the PTU are gathered to push for acceptance of their demands.
TRADERS UP IN ARMS:
Mall Road Traders’ Association President Sohail Butt told Pakistan Today that they are unable to bear the situation anymore, and have decided to stop these protests on their own. He said that more than 3,000 shops and business points are situated at Mall Road which are providing livelihood to more than 5,000 families.
The daily protests at Mall Road have affected the income of the traders, which is adding to their financial problems, he said, adding that they will wait till Monday (tomorrow) for the protest to stop and then launch their own protest against the frequent protests on Mall Road. When asked who they would be protesting against, Sohail chose not to respond.
Following the continuous situation of protests at Mall Road, District Coordination Officer Capt Usman has written a letter to Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to bar electronic media from giving airtime to the protests. He stated in the letter that the protests can only be discouraged if they are not covered by electronic media.
Earlier last month, another group of teachers gathered with the same demands at Charing Cross. Later, the farmers and employees of Punjab Rural Support Programme gathered and staged sit-in for days before finally evacuating the site when their demands were met.
Since last Monday the space remained occupied by nurses till Friday night. The situation was unbearable for the daily commuters, while the blockage on Mall Road caused traffic jam at all main roads of the city.