LAHORE: “Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention against Torture, yet everything is happening here,” says Advocate Jalila Haider, the very first woman lawyer from the Hazara community. “And while everyone knows of the problem we are plagued with, no one has any solution.”

The Quetta-based Hazara community is one of the most vulnerable communities of the country. Thousands have been killed and injured, and the sufferings are ongoing.

“Since 2000 to 2018, at least 2,500 Hazaras were killed in 204 different attacks,” she says. The last bloody attack happened in April this year.

She shared the details at a recent event and while speaking to Dawn.

“Our businesses are affected if not completely destroyed; we are house bound. It is difficult to go outside at such times,” she says. Despite the fact that Quetta has a strong presence of security forces, these attacks continue.”

In fact the security situation has divided the city area and the cantonment area into two different spheres.

“There is so much division that the Cantt area looks like a different city, a different dimension,” she says. “We often joke that all government authority buildings should also be moved there.”

Humour is a good catharsis for the general public in any case. But otherwise speaking out is getting more and more difficult especially for the media thanks to state intervention and censorship. “We are too vulnerable – we either speak out, or die. People are ‘ratting out’ on their friends,” she says.

“It’s tragic but in Balochistan political movements have been stripped off and there is now a deep and ever growing gap of mistrust between public and state authorities.”

But Jalila, who appears to be a very urbane, confident and cheerful young woman, despite the things she has seen back home, is quick to add that there is a lot that can be done.

“When you feel that nothing can change, and you are so desperate and thirsty for peace, then that is the right time to change it,” she says. “If it’s a true movement of the masses, everyone will eventually stand on the same platform.”

She examines her own situation. Being the first woman lawyer is not easy.

“They hate me for my feminist perspectives which were encouraged by my father,” she says. “He had had enough of male domination in the legal fraternity and encouraged me to become a lawyer. “I don’t subscribe to patriarchal norms and customs and so they hate me. But I love them despite their tribalism and chauvinism, because I know what they suffer and I know what they lack.”

Another reason why ‘men dislike her’ more is because women bring in the cases usually against men, threatening the status quo.

Meanwhile, the Hazaras’ main problem is the absence of their CNICs, giving rise to identity issues as well.

“Primarily we are being attacked because of our ethnicity, even though a large part of these attacks are caused by sectarian strife,” she says. “The situation is so bad sometimes that we do not know if we can come back home alive. But I assure that we are the most peaceful and educated people in the country, and we have a 100 percent literacy rate.”

Around 0.8 million Hazaras live in the country, while 0.6 million live in Quetta. “Being in a large group in Quetta, we still need an NOC to enter places in the city like Model Town.”

For Jalila advocacy is not restricted to the courtroom.

“We are slowly developing a scenario where there is some kind of mass movement,” she says, referring to some recent protests and movements where people in great numbers have come out asking for human rights to be violated.

“We must not give up,” she urges. “We must continue to write and to battle this change. We must also understand that it must be people like us who will have to bear the brunt of the situation.”

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2018

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