© Simon Buxton / Anti-Slavery

“If you don’t pick cotton, you will be expelled from the university”

A disabled student from Tashkent is being forced to pick cotton. Here is his message sent to Radio Ozodlik:

“I am a first-year student at the Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Melioration. We (the students) were mobilized to go to the cotton harvest in the Syrdarya region on Sunday, September 10. The very next day after our arrival, we were sent out to the cotton field to pick cotton. In the afternoon some of the students who could not pick cotton well enough were scolded. Furthermore, we are  threatened to get expelled from university if we do not pick cotton well enough.

I am a third-level disabled student and I receive a pension monthly. I need to be under medical treatment permanently. Thus, I demonstrated the relevant papers and my medical card to the Department of Economics, where I study. However, I was told:

‘You perfectly know that all students must be mobilized for cotton picking. These papers and your medical card cannot be accepted as an excuse. You have to resign from your studies to refrain from the cotton mobilization.’

I have no money to pay myself free from the cotton mobilization. The farmers I’ve talked to don’t have any possible solution either, so I have to talk to my teachers.

I have been picking cotton for 2-3 days so far. Some of the students could not stand it and have already left home. But, they were warned that they would be expelled from the university.

What can I do? It is not easy to get admitted to another university again once you’ve been expelled”.