|— Photo from the event's Facebook page
“Learn about the history, complications, human rights abuses, and the struggle for justice that has been going on in Balochistan.”
That is how the Lahore University of Management Sciences described their event Unsilencing Balochistan, scheduled for Thursday.
The highly anticipated talk was supposed to have a panel including Mama Qadeer (Chairman, Voice for Missing Baloch Persons), Farzana Majeed (General Secretary, Voice for Missing Baloch Persons), columnist and activist M.M Ali Talpur, academic Professor Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, Director HRCP I. A. Rehman and activist Sajjad Changhezi.
The session was to be moderated by Chief Editor of Daily Times, Rashid Rahman.
This never happened.
Students, staff and faculty at LUMS were abruptly emailed by Ali Khan, Chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department:
While the "who?" and "why?" are clear to the wise, it is still difficult to imagine a private academic institution being silenced with such ease. This was blatant interference in LUMS' decisions and activities, a condemnable silencing of another attempt to 'unsilence' voices from Balochistan.
That a discussion in a private (often touted as 'elite') university in an urban provincial capital poses a threat; that a few moments in the local spotlight can shake up the corridors of power, says much about the state of affairs in this country.
The forced cancellation is but a small reflection of the all-pervasive hold that has gripped Balochistan for decades and littered its streets and roads with mutilated bodies.
Know more: A plague of suicide in Balochistan
This hushing culture is one of coercion and injustice, of total subjugation.
If there is one characteristic that defines our nation's history, it is the monopolisation of discourse and the manipulation of narrative by the all-mighty and powerful. That history is not yet history, we have just been reminded.
|Mama Qadeer, who marched from Quetta to Islamabad on foot in protest of the 'disappearance' of his son in Balochistan. - AFP/File
In the case of the Baloch and Balochistan, the monopolisation is so complete, and its absorption so widespread, that challenging or contradicting it has now become a ‘threat’ and abhorrent to ‘the state’. It is a narrative of the sardars, the BLA and the naïve Baloch – manipulated by all to resent and dissent against the utopia that is Pakistan which has been ceaselessly kind and generous to the people of the province.
Umair Javed, a Political Science instructor at LUMS, was quick to point out that none of the speakers who were to speak at the event were linked to either of the actors upon which the dominant narrative regarding Balochistan is centred.
On social media, people were prompt in stating that talks and discussions at LUMS don’t and cannot bring change; they are insignificant. Fair enough. Then what was so alarming about this 'insignificant' discussion that called for its cancellation?
So alarming that it was necessary to engage the might of trolls in trending this hashtag #ShameOnLUMS?
Shame on the silencer and their narrative, which conflates certain institutions with the country itself, and declares any dissent or disagreement as an 'anti-Pakistan' endeavour, an attempt at 'maligning' the state's institutions.
Explore: Shrine to the Disappeared
This fight of narratives is nothing trivial but a crucial battle in the struggle for a genuine democracy in Pakistan.
The timeless words of the great Eqbal Ahmad come to mind. While speaking on army action in East Pakistan in 1971, he wrote:
“I do not know if my position would at all contribute to a humane settlement. Given the fact that our government is neither accountable to the public nor sensitive to the opinion of mankind, our protest may have no effect until this regime has exhausted all its assets and taken the country down the road to moral, political, and economic bankruptcy.
“However, lack of success does not justify the crime of silence in the face of criminal, arbitrary power.”
Balochistan is bleeding. Silence in its bruised and bloodied face is very much an accomplice. The discourse must be reclaimed.
And if voices are a threat, then speak, nay, scream we shall.