Baloch Women’s Protest Folds Up: “We Came With Photos of Missing Kin, We Are Returning With Those”

Baloch Women’s Protest Folds Up: “We Came With Photos of Missing Kin, We Are Returning With Those”

Islamabad does not recognise Baloch people as Pakistan citizens.’ This was the sentiment as the monthlong Baloch women’s protest in the country’s capital ended.

“We tried to convince ourselves that Islamabad would at least acknowledge our presence and spare some time to listen to our sorrows,” says Hakmeen Baloch, who has been searching for her brother for the past eight years.

The biting winter had done nothing to quell the movement, to participate in which Baloch women travelled from Turbat to Islamabad.

“We did not know how we made this journey. But when you have a spark in your heart and hope, you can resist the weather,” says Dr. Mahrang Baloch, a leader of the protest which was done under the aegis of the Baloch Yakjehti Committee.

Over the course of days, Baloch women held up photos of missing persons, expressing the same sorrow.

Murdered Baloch man Balach Mola Baksh’s mother was among those protesting. “We are alone,” she said. Her son’s murder resulted in the initiation of the movement.

The Baloch women ended their protest

The sit-in, which began in Islamabad on December 22, 2023, concluded on January 22, 2024. The movement initially sparked in November following the abovementioned murder and subsequently garnered support from the victims’ families and the populace of Balochistan. Solidarity to it extended beyond Balochistan, and also came from families of victims of enforced disappearances from Sindh, South Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Mahrang Baloch on January 22 of this year, announced that the Baloch women’s protest had concluded, and the following day they would depart for the province of Balochistan. She said that since their arrival in Islamabad, they had been subjected to brutal treatment by the state, despite the fact that it is state violence that her people had endured for decades in Balochistan, she said.

She stated at the presser that the state had denied them necessities for survival during the sit-in. The National Press Club of Islamabad also issued a letter against the sit-in, in a strange case of a journalists’ body taking sides in a public protest.

“We came to Islamabad seeking a solution, but instead, Islamabad added another chapter of violence against Balochs,” she added. Protesters alleged that the state had installed a “counter protest” close to their site of protest, “led by members of a death squad” who could be called upon to use violence against the Baloch women.

An ‘open jail’

“It was not a sit-in, it was an open jail in which we were confined and every brutal action by the state was meant to break us,” Mahrang noted at the presser.

After announcing the end of the sit-in, she sat with The Wire and narrated the Baloch women’s protest in detail, breaking down in the process.

Mahrang said that in the initial days, when their protest had reached Quetta, they had no tents and managed to survive by huddling around a small fire. Their vehicles had been damaged, and rain seeped inside during the winter cold. Clutching each other for warmth and protection, they had prayed for kinder weather.

When their protest reached Islamabad on December 20, the administration and police refused to allow them to go to the National Press Club. Mahrang was concerned for senior citizens when they decided that the sit-in would be held on the road. They lacked restroom facilities, food, and firewood. Despite this, all protesters were united and began the sit-in on the road.

“Mothers fully endorsed our decision, and they turned their chappals into pillows under the open sky,” Mahrang said.

Islamabad’s attitude has convinced the protesters that Baloch people were not regarded as part of the state. Protesters were surrounded by wire fences, and cameras were installed to scrutinise them. Violence was a daily affair, the protesters said.

In the cold, they drank “cough syrups like tea.” They also drank less water to avoid using restrooms.

Protesters also criticised human rights organisations for largely ignoring them through this time.

“Balochistan has many mass graves that need to be investigated, and DNA tests should be conducted. However, no human rights organisation talks about it,” many said.

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, said Mahrang, have written to them noting that they have been writing to Pakistan to allow them to investigate the issue of enforced disappearances. “Why does the UN working group not make it public that Pakistan does not issue them No-Objection Certificates for looking into these missing persons?” asked Mahrang.

Very few journalists have written on Baloch people and the protest.

Lost hope

The majority of the victims’ families already knew that Islamabad would not listen to them. But many found hope in the latest protest.

Sammi Deen Baloch, who has been advocating for her father Dr. Deen Mohammad Baloch since his alleged abduction over a decade ago said that she was not disappointed as she was already aware of the state’s behaviour. “But this time, our Baloch nation has become our strength, and they are with us.”

Robina Baloch has been asking the state about the whereabouts of her brother for nine years. She understood that the state would not look into their cases when it resorted to violence against them. The court and the media, Robina felt, were accessories to this.

Naz Bibi Baloch, a mother, said that she would not have come to Islamabad had it not been for the leaders of this movement. “Every night, I hoped that the next dawn will bring news about my son. Islamabad did not feel a mother’s sorrow,” she said.

Members of another family said that they had arrived with photos of their missing relatives and are now returning to their homes with the photos. “How long will we hold a picture and ask the state where our family members are?”

Fareeda Baloch, a widow, had only one son, Sajjad, who was abducted, she said. Her grandson has been asking her to tell his father to buy a bicycle for him. She has no answer for him, she said.

A referendum

When the protesters returned to Balochistan, the welcome was remarkable. Protesters told this reporter that the support outdid that garnered by any political group. Locals ripped up political party banners.

Sammi said that a larger audience welcomed them and joined the public gathering in Shaal, known as Quetta. “Now, Baloch people have their platform, which will highlight their issues indiscriminately,” she added.

The Balochistan government initially tried to prevent the Baloch women from holding a meeting in Quetta by imposing Section 144. Later, it allowed them to hold the gathering, with some restrictions.

Protesters said the meeting was historic. “It is not a meeting, instead, it is a referendum,” one said.

“We have wrapped our tents up in Islamabad, but we have not wrapped our hopes up,” Mahrang added.

Nadia Abdel

Nadia Abdel

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