Lok Virsa celebrated Labour Day with a musical evening in its Open Air Theatre on Tuesday.

Various artists presented revolutionary songs and folk music at the event which was dedicated to Mashal Khan, a student of the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan who was killed by a mob two years ago.

The walls of the theatre were covered in banners inscribed with slogans calling for the restoration of student unions, for ending the class-based education system, commercialisation of education, removing biases from the curriculum, and end to the exploitation of the working class, persecution of marginalised communities and an overall change in the socio-political system and governance.

‘Our working class is more oppressed now than ever’

Performances included folk, Sufi and revolutionary songs by Arieb Azhar, Akmal Qadri, Zeeshan Mansoor, Waseem Sakhi, Aftab Suraj, Sajawal Khan, Wajih Nizami and Beghairat Brigade’s Ali Aftab and Imran Nafees.

Redentions of Faiz’ timeless hits such as Bol Keh Lab Azad Hain Terey, Hum Dekheingein and Hum Mehnat Kush Jagwalon Sey and Salman Haider’s satirical poem Pen di Sri, received the loudest applause from the audience.

“May Day has never been as relevant to our society as now,” Dr A.H Nayyar, a noted physicist and peace activist, said.

Talking to Dawn, he said our working class is more oppressed than before and reminded the ruling elite of their responsibilities to the working class.

Being unemployed in the absence of any social security system is very hard, he said, adding that it is good to see students moving towards politics of the left. He said though the process has been slow, the painstaking efforts of young leaders on the left have been very encouraging.

He said he hoped that the younger generation can come up with novel and workable solutions to the problems the country is faced with.

Awami Workers’ Party (AWP) Punjab President Dr Asim Sajjad Akhtar said that while all ruling parties are now talking about the rhetoric of “change”, they in fact are the defenders of the status quo.

He urged the younger generation to revive the historic progressive movements that were at the forefront for the democratic struggle until the early 80s.

Human rights activist Kapil Dev said: “In times of shrinking spaces for democratic and dissent voices in the media, academia and public life, events like these are much needed”.

Organised student movements have played a crucial part in all social and political movements and revolutions in the world, said rights activist Minhaj Swati.

“Unions are the voice of students and they have been silenced, depoliticised and deprived of their fundamental right to organise the past 40 years,” he said, adding that this has resulted in the rising violence in campuses.

Famed playwright, director and artist Imran Nafees presented a solo play based on the murder of Mashal Khan and the fire accident in the Baldia Factory in Karachi.

In the morning, a rally organised by AWP and various trade unions was taken out from Rawalpindi Press Club to the railway station.

Originally published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2018