I am the gravestone and the photograph
Every Friday, after the Juma prayer, people start
filing into this small place at the foothills. Nobody in the community
seems to miss this ritual. Other than the small mounds topped by two or
three stones, a corridor stands out prominently. It is dotted with
portraits of young students, ambitious bankers, committed teachers and
promising lawyers on each side. Each image is full of life. A humming
recitation spreads around and the sound of sobbing women can be heard
clearly with the setting sun, which eventually dissolves into dusk.
Welcome to the Hazara Graveyard.
Persian signboards, calligraphers and engravers are lined
up along the road that leads to this necropolis. A small street turns
from the corner of a marriage hall and heads up towards the hill. A few
houses up, a narrow by-lane funnels to reveal an array of flags and
standards that mark the skyline – a sight that beholds every observer.
This cemetery surpasses any possible manifestation of tragedy. As the
target killings picked up, the Hazara community decided to dedicate a
part of the graveyard separately for this purpose. Before the land could
be procured, this ‘section’ was already filled to capacity. Before
Hazaras buried the victims of one tragedy, the news of another would
The graveyard has now expanded to three portions. After the
first part, another was procured and soon it was overloaded too. Given
the continued frequency of killings, the third portion is likely to run
out of space at any time. All the tombstones are uniformly designed: a
photo of the deceased, his date of birth, the date and place of the
incident and a verse from the Quran. Each grave is a story, and a unique
one. Some were killed while going to work, while others lost their
lives on the highways. One Hazara was killed commuting to his business
and others on their way back from university. At one corner, five graves
are built in a line. These belong to five cousins who had ventured out
for a friendly cricket match and were fired upon at close range.
The perpetrators of this violence have made life miserable for these
Hazaras by impeding all escape routes. Caged between Alamadar Road and
the neighbouring Koh-i-Murdar, the choices for expansion are very
limited. For the hills are not as lethal as men with differing
ideologies, the Hazaras have opted to settle towards the foothills and
trust Koh-i-Murdar more than the fellow beings. Those who
cross Alamdar Road are believed to have breached the limits of safety
and are constantly waited for – dead or alive.
Mothers avoid sending children to school and professors now sit at
home to plan their life in Australia or Punjab. Businesses have been
heavily dented and Hazaras are not seen in Quetta – a city which was
once their identity. After every blast or incident of targeted violence,
those outside the community hastily draw a line. When a Balochistan
University bus was attacked, the non-Hazara parents decided to pull out
their children from the transportation used by Hazara students. Moving
with the Hazaras has become synonymous with inviting death.
I am forever missed, forever loved
Zia never wanted to go to Australia. Perhaps, no Hazara
ever desires to step out of these winding lanes. The small houses here
buzz with care and promise the unimaginable warmth of love. Intertwined
lives in inter-woven streets are known for influencing decisions and
reversing stances. But then one day, a flashing ambulance halted in
front of their house, a blood-stained body was taken out and it changed
everything. The city where Zia grew up had turned into a port city in a
far-off land – strange and hostile.
Zia had always seen his uncle dress impeccably but that
day, his body was soaked in blood and riddled with bullets, his torn
shirt spoke of the helplessness of a broad daylight murder. The corpse
caught Zia off-guard and he changed his mind. The young heart fluttered
as the bird they cage in every Hazara lawn. A jirga, similar to Qora el tai,
where they decided the fate and faith of Hazara centuries ago in the
vale of Bamiyan was replicated in Zia’s house. He silently left these
800,000 Hazaras who awaited death and joined those 60,000 who awaited
Australian immigration. While many were privy to what may happen to Zia,
no one could imagine the plight of his family.
There are two routes that lead to Australia, the legitimate route and
the “frequent route”. Those who take the legitimate route have enough
time and resources to wait, but the others – who choose frequent route –
are normally running short of both. The frequent route starts with a
Karachi- Bangkok flight. From Bangkok, they reach Kuala Lumpur via land
and then board a ship for Indonesia. After a few days’ stay at
Indonesia, the agents who have smuggled them thus far hand them over to
the hostile waters, at the time of their choice – mostly in the dark of
the night. If the immigrants are fortunate enough, they reach Christmas
Island (a transit camp which serves as port of entry into Australia) and
if they run out of luck, the carnivores of the Pacific feast on pacifist Hazaras.
I am the diligent optimist
After some scenic turns in the locality of Khushk Talaab (translating to dry pond in the local dialect), we reached Ibrahim’s house, guided by the kids at street-end.
In the veranda, a water tank occupied much of space alongside a homemade oven (tandoor)
and a bicycle with a tilted stand. The simple yet elegant house,
similar to those in Santa Fe (New Mexico), posed a question. Who would
abandon such a still, laid-back lifestyle for long working hours at some
metropolitan food chain in the ‘lucky country’ Down Under? The
kids chased each other from one room to another. Their father was killed
in Kuchlak few months ago. The question could never be asked.
Ibrahim was an employee of the police force – an
organisation that promises power. One day, he reviewed his recent
employments and realised that his placements were constantly shrinking
and he was being restricted to areas which are comparatively safe. It
dawned upon him that the city had failed to accommodate him. The vastest
province of the country had no space for a few individuals who differed
in ideology and features. Migration to Australia surfaced as a handy
option. The decision to leave was the only difficult part. Finances came
ready, in the form of his wife’s jewellery and loans from
acquaintances. Within days, his passport was stamped with a visa for
looked at other passengers who were Iranians, Afghans and his fellow
Hazara; all they had asked for was a little space and their countrymen
had out-rightly refused it. Bangkok was the high point of their journey.
The Iranian families were thrilled by their new-found independence and
the Afghans were excited to see life beyond killings and ruins.
Malaysia was the downside and by Indonesia, they had started regretting
From Indonesia, there are two routes leading to Christmas
Island. One route features whirlpools but takes 30 hours to reach the
island, subject to survival. The other route is a safer option and takes
anywhere between a week to 10 days. A night prior to their departure,
everyone calls home and informs about their journey the next day. They
hang up the phone promising to call from Australia but the phones in
Quetta are held in hands a little longer. In the dark of the night, they
are bundled up in trucks and start for the beach, traversing the long
dark miles cross-country and in the jungle. The worn out boats appear
too fragile to tread even the calm waters and are stuffed to thrice
their capacity but the immigrants, illegal by now, cannot resist.
Ibrahim was sea-sick when the boat hit the whirlpool and the captain
escaped. The unfortunate passengers battled for almost an age.
For those who survive the wrath of ocean, misery awaits at detention
centres. The damp rooms with eternal stink are more like
dungeons. The long period of confinement ends with a few returning
to their homes, while fewer make it to more a permanent place.
After months of suffering at the detention centre, Ibrahim managed to
call back home. His brother had also decided to try his luck in
Australia. The debate ensued for long hours but Ibrahim ran out of
arguments supporting his survival in Quetta. His brother left the
following week and is missing to date.
Many residents of Hazara housing society sailed from Indonesia for
Australia but never reached the promised land. News about the shipwreck
was followed by a complete silence – echo-perfect. Back in Quetta, half
of the family members believe that their loved ones are dead and half of
them await miracles. Away from their houses, these family members might
accept the mathematical improbability of survival, but in their homes
they live with the vacant places at dinner, for somebody who has no
possibility of coming back.
Ibrahim was lucky enough to see his kids
again. He tried p-0 to find his brother but nothing worked. Nobody was
bothered about this Hazara in Pakistan and no one cared in Indonesia.
The true manifestation of Muslim brotherhood dawned upon Ibrahim.
There are yet others who have never been to Australia but are living
transitory lives. They are the children who have no academic routine to
follow. The schools are either closed or no one is willing to teach.
These kids, uniquely intelligent and congenitally artistic, spend the
day either sitting in front of their houses (because the mothers are too
scared to lose sight) or playing video games on the computers which the
expats have sent back for Skype. The intrinsic desire of these
kids to leave a footprint on time compels them to give Australia a
chance, even at the cost of their life. Their sittings reinforce this
ambition and the plans are made secretly. Once the secret is out and
reaches their families it sparks a debate, but a bomb-blast or few
killings settle the whole issue in their favour for good.
You and I
Quetta, of the early 1980s, was a different place – where Hazaras were one of many colours. The “Jihad
Bonanza” not only deprived the country of an independent thinking
stream but also shaped external and internal behaviours. In a subtle
manner, compromise replaced competition and Quetta changed. Now
disagreement meant disappearance and arguments ended in gun shots. The
society had exhausted her patience for differences in thoughts and
actions. The man of faith, a Fort Bragg graduate who prided himself in
Islamicising the country, had in fact traded religion for worthless
political gains. What then constituted the silent majority has now
shrunk into a sane minority. His Frankenstein of commercial mercenaries (jihadis) bleed the country and the end is not in sight.
Sardar Nisar was the first to be attacked in Quetta and while he
survived the assault, his guard and driver lost their lives. Most
recently, the death count has touched the 1,000 mark. Safety has yet to
return to the haunted city and peace remains a dream. The killers come
with a confidence that defies the existence of law for killing Hazaras
and the state, religion and society encourage this ‘noble genocide’
through their silence.
Hazaras are distributed into eight branches; four Sunni and four Shia
clans. But the gunslingers are too busy to inquire after their target’s
sect. For them, being Hazara equates being a Shia and this crime merits
death. An economist cited their financial strength and dominance of
local markets as reasons for this genocide. Some politicians have named
the invisible “foreign hand” and the others associate Baloch separatists
with these killings. Regardless of the reasons, almost everyone in the
Hazara community insisted that they had informed the local
administration about the suspects and the likelihood of attacks, but no
measure was taken. The routine departmental slackness had cost them
their lives and the fragile sense of security. The killers came with
typical ease, did their job and left. Local administration, they point,
is at best incompetent or at worst, in connivance.
The Hazaras are very composed but the undertone suggests that the
other Pakistanis are more interested in watching T20 cricket, and the
executive-versus-judiciary stand-off rather than feeling for them, their
A painting at a politician’s drawing room said it all. The artist had
painted an arm in the Iranian flag and the background in the Saudi
flag. The red inscription on the painting, read “Shia is a heretic and
should be killed.” At the bottom left, the footnote said “My
countrymen’s perception about me.” It seemed from the disillusionment
that the artist would have been in his late forties, but the answer came
as a surprise: The painting was by “a teenager who had lost a close
I am the artist
The blood of Hazara christens Balochistan in ways other than
violence. Like many others, a house in the community has been carved in
the hill. When the sun starts packing up, Hazara kids gather here.
Absolved from the expanding graveyard, they climb these stairs to sketch
their hearts out. From an angle, these kids are like those sleepers who
escaped the wrath of their fellow men on difference of faith and took
it to a cave. They will reappear when light enters not only hearts and
minds, but also illuminates souls.
The room remains without heating and lighting arrangements in the
harsh weathers, but the students have no grievances. If it rains, they
sit inside and talk about the philosophies of life. Sketch club is a
Lyceum, where an Aristotle teaches his students how to live – and art –
it comes by default.
Moosavi Saheb is the soul of this sketch club. He is a
teacher, organiser, administrator and a bit of Mr Chips too. Starting
his journey from the Arts Council, he had taught in private institutes
for a few years and now runs this facility. In his share of violence,
his son and daughter both received critical injuries in a bomb blast on
their university bus. Nobody talks about this at the sketch club
although everyone who comes here has a story.
The graduates of sketch club regularly secure scholarships at the
prestigious National College of Arts in Lahore and this fills Moosavi Saheb with pride. Paintings from Sketch Club were recently showcased in Australia for 40 days and won over many foreign art critics.
I am the flickering light
Why would someone kill a Hazara? The question elicited different
responses from social scientists, politicians, religious leaders and
economists. Apart from the analytical reasons, there are others too: The
organised graveyards, well-managed colonies, self-sufficient introvert
people, and children who take art seriously and life lightly are among
the distinguishing factors of these people. Hazaras, probably, are too
refined for us to mourn their deaths, feel their loss and protest their
killings. Their existence is the sole ray of light that challenges the
darkness, which we have come to we love.
We have also conveniently chosen to look the other way because we are
not Hazaras and our kids will never be killed because of their facial
features, dialects and faith. The perception prevails that this
persecution is for Hazaras only – but the areas of Sola-acre, Nasirabad,
Syedabad and Nauabad remind us that these were once safe places too.
Legend has it that the title Hazara is derived from their grouping
into battalions of 1,000 men which fought Genghiz Khan. Now, with the
killing of close to one thousand Hazaras, this title has been redefined.