By Muriam Salman
The state army has created several religious proxy groups to counter the freedom struggle in Balochistan. These fanatic groups have warned Baloch women to stop taking part in protests and supporting the freedom movement
The following interview was conducted with representatives from the Women of Baluchistan and Role of Women in Revolution online group created in July, 2012. The page is run by a collective of individuals with the stated aim of raising awareness about:
1. Baloch women who are struggling for freedom and the betterment of Baloch society;
2. The role of women in revolutions around the world.
We hoped to discern information about the role of Baloch women in the nationalist movement, their thoughts on the struggle, upcoming elections, and the class and gender composition of Baloch leadership. Since the formation of Pakistan, Baloch nationalists and the Pakistani establishment have clashed with each other at least four times over issues of provincial autonomy, resource control and the right to self-determination. The most recent upsurge of the nationalist movement, sparked by the rape of Dr. Shazia Khalid, began in 2005 and, as with previous uprisings, was met with state suppression and intelligence agencies’ action. . Hundreds of Baloch villagers, professionals, students and leaders have been subjected to arbitrary abductions and ‘kill and dump’ operations led by the state. As a result of this crackdown by the state and its security establishment, tensions in the region have heightened. Moreover, the nationalist parties boycotted the general election in 2008 under President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf and thus, had no formal representation in the political power structure of the country for the past five years.
The representatives of the group were reluctant in identifying themselves by name due to understandable fears for personal safety and security. Thus, we do not lay claim to the veracity of the answers but leave it upon the judgment of our readership. In publishing this interview we hope to broaden the discourse with regards to the perspectives of the Baloch people and ensure that the often neglected voices of Baloch women are heard and documented.
What are the main demands of the Baloch nationalist movement?
The main demand of Baloch freedom struggle [is] immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Balochistan. The Baloch have been struggling to regain their freedom since Balochistan was forcefully annexed to Pakistan at gunpoint in 1948. Baloch like any other free nation want peace, prosperity and a free homeland where they can live with peace, dignity and have their own national identity.
What are the specific demands of the women involved in the movement taking place today?
Women are part of Baloch society, so their demands are no different than demands of the rest of the Baloch people. Baloch women in the past have also taken part in the liberation struggle in one way or other. This time as the struggle is more organised and expanded in all four corners of Balochistan…the involvement of women is also more obvious. Baloch women demands have always been education for women, equal rights and status in society.
Do you think these specific, if we may call it that, feminist demands should be one of the main issues in the Baloch struggle?
Baloch struggle regards women as equal citizens of Balochistan; women have a very high status in Baloch society. Their demand in [the] Baloch struggle should not be an issue. Currently, our Baloch sisters and mothers are at [the] forefront of [the] Baloch liberation movement. The state (Pakistan) has, however, kept the entire Balochistan underdeveloped and oppressed which kept Baloch women from rural [areas] of Balochistan away from education.
Do you feel that the demands of women have been given equal voice as other issues have?
If you mean demands from government then the answer is in negative, because Balochistan is an occupied territory and under occupation their voice will never be heard. But if you’re talking about Baloch freedom struggles, then I believe yes in Baloch society and in the liberation struggle Baloch women hold an equal status. Their voice is heard, respected and given importance.
How successful have women and feminists been in having their demands voiced in the movement?
At the moment all Baloch men, women and the entire Baloch nation is suffering the foreign oppression and invasion. Baloch women can only have demands from Balochistan, if their voice is ignored after the freedom of Balochistan. Baloch freedom loving leaders and political parties have already made a Liberation Charter which regards women equal in state affairs and they will be treated equally [in] all spheres of life. At present we are all paying our full attention and energy to the liberation movement.
What barriers have Baloch women faced in having their voices heard both by the state and also by others taking part in the movement? Can you give some examples?
The state army has created several religious proxy groups to counter the freedom struggle in Balochistan. These fanatic groups have warned Baloch women to stop taking part in protests and supporting the freedom movement. On several occasion they splashed acid on the face of Baloch female students and teachers. The government is scared of an educated Baloch woman that’s why through its proxy religious groups the government is trying to harass Baloch women and prevent them [from] going to schools and joining the liberation movement.
Some of the examples of state atrocities against Baloch women: In April 2011 acid [was] splashed on five Baloch girls in Noshki and Kalat. The victims included eight year old Saima, 14 year old Shakila and 20 year old Fatima who were attacked on their way to Killi Pandunari from Kalat town. Two weeks prior to this vicious attack, acid [was] spilled on two girls in the town of Noshki in Balochistan. Baloch political and resistance organisations.… strongly condemned those attacks and termed them a conspiracy against Baloch freedom struggle.
On 22 May 2010 an elderly Baloch female human rights activist died when their car overturned while they were on their way from Quetta to Karachi to appear before the judicial commission about disappeared persons. Later it was found that the cause of the accident was due to a substance (powder) hidden in the [tire] of their car. Bibi Mahtab Raisani campaigned for [the] recovery and release of thousands of abducted Baloch activists including her son Mir Abdul Wadood Raisani.
On 10 September 2011 – Four female teachers of a private school were attacked with acid by unknown culprits in Killi Alam area of Saryab in Quetta. The female teachers were sitting in a van outside their school in Killi Alam on Saryab Road when two men on motorbikes hurled acid and fled from the scene. Three teachers, in early 20s, received burn injuries on their face, hands and legs while clothes of another teacher were burnt. The victims were identified as Robina Mushwani, 21, Fazila Bangulzai, 23, Sajida Bibi, 24 and 21-year-old Surriya Langhov. Sajida Bibi was discharged after being provided first aid. A proxy religious fundamentalist organisation of the ISI had accepted responsibility for the attacks in Kalat and Noshki.
On 31 January 2012 Ms. Zamur Domki and her daughter Jana were shot dead along with their driver in Karachi. Zamur Domki was the sister of Baloch Republican Party’s chief Mr. Brahumdagh Bugit. Family sources and the only survived in the incident said: “Between 1 and 1:30 AM on the 31st of January, shortly after leaving the uncle’s house, a black coloured car intercepted Domki’s car near Gizri Bridge, Clifton. A man dressed in black shalwar kameez and wearing a black face mask jumped out of the car and shot the driver, Barkat Baloch, as they tried to get away. The driver was killed on the spot as a result of multiple bullet wounds to the head. Then the assailant opened the rear door at which point two bikes arrived at the scene and parked on the left and right side of the car. Upon opening the door, Mrs Domki offered her jewellery, phone and valuables to the man, thinking that he was a robber. In response the killer told Zamur that he didn’t need her valuables and that he was there to kill her and her daughter, in Urdu. Zamur Domki told him to spare her daughter and that he could kill her. At this point the killer went to the daughter who was sitting on the front passenger seat and fired multiple shots at her, hitting her in the chest and neck.
Zamur Domki was made to witness the brutal killing of her daughter. She was then shot over a dozen times in the head, face and neck at point blank range and was left in a pool of blood. During this incident, the police were spectating from a distance.”
In what way have women stood out or been empowered as a result of this movement?
At present Balochistan is under occupation and the occupier i.e. Pakistan and Iran have systematically kept Balochistan backward in all aspect – education, skill and other basic facilities. However, in our point of view the movement has emboldened the Baloch women to come out and speak for their rights. Despite the claims of Pakistan and Iran that Baloch are backward and they do not allow their women to get education or progress – it [is] evident that Baloch women face no restriction from men as they are openly protesting and leading the struggle.
What, if any, is the unique role of women in this movement?
I would hesitate to share this information with you if there was a unique role of Baloch women in movement but at present we are all struggling together and in the same way we are all suffering together as well.
What has been the role of Baloch women in previous nationalists’ movements in the province?
Previous struggles have not been as widespread and united as…today’s movement for freedom. Baloch women did what they could in their capacity. They mostly looked after the wounded fighters. In few instances women did actually practically fight against the enemy forces i.e. Pakistan and Iranian army.
What is the class basis of women leadership in BSO and other Baloch organisations? Of the female leaders in the BSO and other Baloch organizations, do they come from the upper, middle/working, or peasant classes? Is the leadership in general (males and females combined) composed mainly of members from a particular class?
We do not believe in this classification. Any Baloch men, women or children who [ask] and work for freedom, is regarded as a terrorist by Pakistan. BSO and other Baloch organisations female members are from all tribes of Balochistan and from different spheres of life. The leadership [is] generally male.
What is the class basis of women in the movement itself? Are most women in the Baloch freedom movement daughters and sisters of traditional tribal leaders, or do they come from the middle/working class as well? I ask these questions as it shows the various interests represented in the movement.
They are from all tribes, classes and sphere of life.
To your knowledge, have the intelligence agencies’ missing persons operations targeted women as well? Usually we only get to hear about men and women as fighting for their recovery.
Yes, not only women have been abducted but may have been target killed as well…The majority of missing Baloch persons are men and women who are left behind have no other option but to struggle for the recovery of their loves one. See this report on abduction of Baloch activist. It included over 80 women:
Do you have any knowledge of the whereabouts of Shazia Khalid, the female doctor whose rape sparked off the last nationalist movement? Where she is now, what she is doing?
We heard she had moved to the United Kingdom but we are not sure whether she still lives there or has she moved to any other country. Her rape did [anger] the Baloch more but the struggle has started long before that – the struggle started right after the occupation and forced annexation of Baloch country with Pakistan.
How has the traditional division of labour between genders changed during the struggle and during war in Baloch society?
The war has encouraged the Baloch women to stand for their rights. Women are now more aware than ever before. Traditionally also Baloch are not cruel to women – women have the highest status in Baloch society. Baloch are kept backward and uneducated systematically by the states of Iran and Pakistan. It is also the state functionaries and state media that does negative propaganda against Baloch people and blame them of being anti-education and against girl’s education. These allegations are not true.
What is the role of religion in the Baloch struggle (in both beneficial and harmful ways)? And what is the role of religion as far Baloch women’s’ mobilization and/or suppression is concerned?
Baloch are quite tolerant and secular. We believe that religion should be separated and kept personal. It should not be mixed with politics. Of course we [are] Muslim and we read our prayers but we do not believe killings other in the name of religion. The Pakistan state and military used religion as a tool to justify their atrocities in Balochistan and elsewhere.
Now the state is trying to infiltrate it religious fanatic people in Baloch movement in order to create division in movement. The state has made several groups who are trying to brainwash people to fight against those who are demanding independence. They also targeted Baloch women and threaten them not to go alone in town and join to the protests.
We wanted to get your thoughts on the return of Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Chief of the BNP-M, to Pakistan?
We are against Pakistani parliamentarian system and elections. We do not think there has ever been any free and fair election and democracy in Pakistan in throughout its history of existence. Akhtar Mengal’s decision to come back to Pakistan and contest elections is seen as an act of betrayal by the pro-freedom section of Baloch nation. We believe his decision to return is not anything less than a political suicide for him. If there was any respect for him in the eyes of Baloch people before – he now totally lost that. People of Balochistan will see him as a collaborator and pro-Pakistan person. He will be part of government’s genocidal policy in Balochistan in near future.
What does his decision to run in upcoming elections mean for your struggle overall and especially for Baloch women?
We and the Baloch nation were not expecting anything from him before. We had hopes that if he cannot support the freedom movement, at least he can remain silent and not go against the movement. Unfortunately, he proved us wrong. His contesting election will give legitimacy to Pakistan’s illegal occupation of Baloch land. His decision also damages the Baloch demand for freedom. His decision doesn’t affect women of Balochistan in any particular way. Baloch women are at the forefront of the struggle for liberation and Akhtar’s decision cannot deter them from their aim – Independent Balochistan.
Do any aspects of his platform adhere to your demands?
His platform or Party doesn’t adhere to our demands. Our demands are simple and clear. We want occupying forces out of Balochistan. Immediate and unconditional release of all abducted Baloch persons. The Baloch peoples’ right to freedom as we believe Balochistan was an independent country and Pakistan occupied it at gunpoint.
What is the support base for Akhtar Mengal or for the BNP-M overall, among the Baloch people?
Mr Mengal doesn’t have much support. His party used to be one of the main parties in Balochistan. However, since the beginning of war in Balochistan in 2000 the Baloch people started – let us say – hating Pakistan. After the killing of Nawab Bugti these sentiments have grown to the level of point of no-return. If Akhtar Mengal has come back with the blessings of Army, ISI and other security agencies they he might win the election. Because elections under occupying forces are not elections – they are selections. The people of Balochistan will not vote for him.
Lastly, we were hoping to get your thoughts on the recent attacks on the Hazara community in Quetta.
We strongly condemn the killing of the members of Hazara Community. Baloch people regard them as guest in Balochistan. It is an honour for a Baloch to serve and protect his guest. Religious fundamental organisation such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are fully supported and back by the Military Intelligence and other security agencies of Pakistan. The Lashkar is based in Punjab. They imposed a governor rule in Balochistan but they failed to arrest a single person on the case of Hazara. In fact they have killed and abducted more the 600 Baloch.
|Ayyaz Mallick is a first year graduate student at York University Canada. His concentration is in urban politics and development studies.|
|Muriam Salman is a student at the University of Toronto, Canada.|