Eleven missing persons were presented in front of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on February 13, 2012. Following the hearing, Roheela Bibi – mother of three ‘missing’ sons – died of a heart attack. Bibi’s death fueled reaction and questions have been raised about the plight of such people, whose relative became a part of the ‘missing persons list’, specifically women.
Balochistan, the province with the highest rate of ‘abductions,’ has become the hottest debate, with many an analyst speaking about the country’s largest province. The psychological degradation and alienation that a common Baloch experiences, however, remains unfathomable for many.
Nazish Brohi, an independent research professional, who frequently writes on the subject of human and women rights believes the problem is quite complex.
“It is a matrix, which is more complex than considered by a common man. The crimes against humanity carried out in the region cannot simply be attributed to one particular faction.”
“The intelligence agencies, separatist militants and general crime syndicates are all actors in the anarchy in the province,” Brohi tells Dawn.com.
Insurgencies and political upheavals are not new in the region. The current crisis in Balochistan, however, has motivated or rather instigated women to protest against the absurdity of the system. Countless women can be found outside Quetta Press Club, carrying placards and pictures of their missing relatives.
Allauddin Khilji, programme officer of Aurat Foundation Balochistan believes Baloch women feel suppressed and are discouraged from stepping out of their houses. “In the absence of appropriate measures to ensure law and order, women generally feel insecure and are subjected to live under precarious conditions.”
In an unsafe environment, Khilji says, women do not have any chance.
“The situation has deteriorated and the fear, which is extremely palpable, cannot be described in words,” he adds.
Excerpts from a letter by ‘Young Women of Balochistan’ A group of young women from Balochistan drafted a letter and posted it to various human rights groups located in different parts of Pakistan.
“We are young women from Balochistan, belonging to Quetta, Pishin, Mastung, Khuzdaar, Lasbella, Sibi, and Qila Saifullah. Each of us has horror stories; each of us has lived through nightmares. We want to tell you our fears,” reads the introductory paragraph of the letter.
The letter, which is a long narration of horrendous tales that continue to scar the lives of Baloch women, recounts incidents of crime against humanity tormenting these women every day. They feel baffled and do not really know whether to look for their men, or pray for their painless death or return.
The agony is not restricted to women related to the missing persons. Several others live in fear for the safety of their husbands, sons and brothers who remain ‘unharmed’ to date. An uncertain future and bullet-riddled bodies of missing persons haunt and deter them.
“We fear that our daily battles for dignity within our homes and communities will be lost; that our fight for equality and progress will vanish in our fight for survival as an ethnic group. We fear our own blindness,” the letter further states.
It tells stories of the courage of Baloch people, who refuse to submit to these injustices. The funerals of their loved ones dishearten them, but never kill their hopes of attending universities and schools and aim to become a part of a progressive society.
“We ask you to help us fight for our future – a future in which the FC and army does not rule over our lives and deaths,” the letter ends.
Revolutionary women Each uprising and insurgency is marked by a different movement. Motives and dynamics differ substantially.
“The insurgencies of 60s and 70s were very different primarily because the rationale behind them differed consequentially. Every conflict impacts women in significant ways however in the current conflict women have started joining the movement as opposed to in the past when they were there to only pick up the pieces,” says Brohi.
“Women are the binding force behind any household in Pakistani society. The mothers, wives and sisters of missing persons grieve and carryout everyday chores at the same time, including looking after the ‘leftover’ family members.”
While she believes the issue of missing persons has taken a severe toll on women everywhere, Brohi says the Baloch women, who have always been sidelined, are now emerging and publicly questioning the authorities.
“Injustices and an uncertain future have driven Baloch women to a point where they are finally breaking free from the chains,” she adds.
Khilji, of Aurat Foundation, believes it is not only the ‘missing persons’ factor which is motivating women to step out of their shells and protest against the regime.
“Women that we meet are tired of living in fear of being abducted or killed for working or acquiring education. LHVs and other working women very frequently come under attack which is why many women feel restricted and stay at home,” adds Khilji.
The ‘missing persons’ saga, along with other issues that have suppressed women in the province, have instigated women to become a part of this movement.
However, Ashfaq Mengal, another representative of Aurat Foundation, Balochistan contradicts Brohi and Khilji by claiming that women are not “as empowered as people from other provinces assume.”
Ironically, what the custodians of law and our so-called ‘protectors’ fail to realise is the fact that when a Baloch man is kidnapped, tortured and killed, he does not only go missing from the province or the state, he goes missing from the lives of his kinsfolk, including his mothers, sisters and daughters.
Perhaps, the state and government are unaffected by the absence of one individual. These missing people are, however, pivotal in the lives of these women, who have raised and lived with them, who literally count on them for survival and pray for their better futures and, in this case safe lives.
For the state, one life is as good as another but for Baloch women it is just not the same story. For them, each death and disappearance is a forced invitation to a ceaseless and futile struggle. Each passing day brings hope to see the faces of their loved ones and each night goes by in fervent prayers to ease the pain of their beloveds.
The author is a reporter at Dawn.com.