UTHAL, Nov 17: In scorching noon heat, around 25 people quietly walk on the RCD Highway, before stopping for a break at an open air cafe.
The families of the missing, who started their journey on foot on Oct 27, reached Utthal on Saturday, led by Mama Qadeer Baloch, vice-president of an advocacy group named Voice of Missing Baloch Persons (VOMBP). The families continued their journey on Sunday morning, as more people joined them on their way.
“We are not doing this for politics or any other ulterior motive. The Balochistan government should stop using the term ‘holding talks’ with the families of missing persons as we do not represent a political party. We are out on the streets because we are being victimised,” argues Farzana Majeed. Sister of a senior office-holder of the Baloch Student Organisation (BSO-Azad), Zakir Majeed Baloch, who has been missing since June 2009 from Mastung, Farzana is among the many young people who are taking part in the long march for the missing men of Balochistan.
Holding the pictures of their loved ones tightly, women, and mostly children, make a majority in the group of families that have travelled from various districts and tehsils of Balochistan and are on their way to Karachi.
Kohlu, Khuzdar, Mastung, Mashkay, Awaran and Tonp are some of the areas from where young men have gone missing in recent years, according to the VOMBP. The families are participating in the march to ensure safe return of their fathers and brothers.
From time to time, the families shouted slogans of “free those who have gone missing”. One of the girls from the crowd spray painted a message on the wall of a deserted plot beside the highway, stating: “Baloch rights are also human rights.”
An Edhi ambulance was driving slowly alongside the placard-holding families, which some people said had broken down a day earlier, while an ambulance provided by the Lasbela district government joined the group later.
On Saturday, one of the members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan from another district was not allowed to speak to the families. Activist Nasrullah Baloch said it was because “their role is not satisfactory. They hear us out but they don’t do anything.”
Explaining, he said that this year alone, the number of mutilated bodies dumped in the province rose to 135, including 25 that were found in Karachi, which, according to him, “no human rights organisation in the country wants to speak about”.
It is for the same reason that Qadeer Baloch wants the issue to be heard by international rights group.
With prayer beads in his hands and a bandage tied loosely around his right foot, the first thing Qadeer said was: “The United Nations’ silence on the issue (of missing persons) is surprising. They are ignoring us like the rest of the people here (in Pakistan).”
Qadeer received the mutilated body of his son Jalil Reiki, information secretary of the Baloch Republican Party, in November 2011. His son’s kidnapping and later death, allegedly under the custody of the intelligence agencies, further strengthened the advocacy group in helping families going through similar misery. Last year, the families of the missing, including another activist, Amna Masood Janjua, put up a hunger strike camp outside parliament to seek answers regarding their missing family members.
Walking behind children as young as nine, Qadeer explains why what he is doing is necessary. “I’ll keep on walking. If nobody listens to us in Karachi, I’ll go to Islamabad. If nothing happens there, I’ll go on foot to the United Nations Headquarters. It is a way of teaching our coming generation the value of speaking up.”
In the same group, a 9th grade student, Sammi Baloch, is also participating. Basically from Mashkay, her father Deen Mohammad, a practising doctor at Ornach Hospital, was picked from his home in June 2009 by unidentified men. “I just want to see him. My siblings are too young to understand. We need him at home,” she said.
Since her father’s kidnapping, the family is living on money given by relatives, and at times, neighbours.
In the same line, a 7th grade student, Samina Baloch, said she was too young at the time her father went missing to remember what exactly had happened. “I only remember my mother asking me to participate in every protest and sit-in that Mama Qadeer organises. That way my father might be back home,” she added.
Ready to cover the remaining 119 kilometres to Karachi, the men in the group said they might face “trouble” near Hub. While the rest of the people relaxed for a while inside the shaded roadside cafe, Farzana Majeed was heard asking Qadeer Baloch: “Wahid Qambar (a missing activist) came home after three years, right? I was wondering if Zakir might come home too, since it’s been three and a half years already.”
There are conflicting claims about the number of missing persons from Balochistan. Nasrullah Baloch said that in 2009, around 1,100 cases of missing men were registered with the newly formed VOMBP. But so far there is no official figure to quote on the missing persons as it is eventually challenged, either by rights groups or members belonging to the VOMBP.