Women march in Gwadar for HDT chief’s release

Published March 27, 2023
Hundreds of women took part in the rally in Gwadar to demand release of the HDT chief and highlight the issue of missing persons.—Photo by the writer
Hundreds of women took part in the rally in Gwadar to demand release of the HDT chief and highlight the issue of missing persons.—Photo by the writer

GWADAR: Following the arrest of Haq Do Tehreek (HDT) chief Maulana Hidayatur Rehman in mid-January, the situation in Gwadar has been calm so far. But after the lifting of section 144 in the town, protests against the Maulana’s arrest have simmered again.

Deserving special mention was a demonstration by Burqa-clad women who raised their voice for Maulana Hidayat’s release. Maasi Zainab is the female face of the Gwadar agitation that has grabbed the nation’s attention for over a year.

According to her, the HDT chief was put behind bars for no reason. “He is being punished for speaking out against the injustice meted out to the people of Gwadar,” Maasi Zainab said while speaking to Dawn in this town’s Mullah Band area, near the deep sea port.

“Our fishermen were not being allowed to go out to the sea due to security considerations. Families had to go without a square meal for days together.

“But after the protests led by Maulana Hidayat, the authorities provided a little relief to fishermen. Now we are able to make ends meet.”

According to Zaini, as she is commonly known, the Maulana has given a voice to the inhabitants of Gwadar, who were largely ignored by the authorities while charting out an uplift plan for this port town.

Another vocal woman here is Zargul Baloch, a member of the HDT. She was one of the leading organisers behind the women’s march.

While speaking to Dawn, she laments that the state does not bother to meet the citizens’ basic needs like water, electricity, education and health.

“The most alarming development for us has been illegal trawling as it wipes out entire fish stocks, leaving nothing for our fishermen. Maulana Hidayatur Rehman has given some hope to us.

“But since he is in jail for giving voice to our grievances, the people of Gwadar, women included, have come out in his support.”

Hundreds of women, led by HDT leader Hussain Wadela and Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, took part in the rally. The marchers passed through the major streets of Gwadar, including the Marine Drive, near the beach. They also highlighted other issues, e.g. the matter of the missing.

All the women activists Dawn spoke to pointed out that Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran, who was held recently on a charge of murdering two boys and one girl, was released days after his arrest. But the Maulana is behind bars for more than two months now, they regretted.

Faiza, another woman who participated in the rally, said: “I joined the rally because there seems to be no end to the misery of my Baloch brothers. The HDT chief has given us the courage to stand up for our rights at all cost.”

Checkpoints restrict movement

Following the announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in 2015, of which Gwadar is the centrepiece, the number of checkpoints grew manifold in this town. This put unwelcome restrictions on the locals’ movement.

But to the residents’ pleasant surprise, a number of checkpoints were wound up after people took to the streets under the leadership of Maulana Hidayatur Rehman. This has infused them with energy and determination. “We have come out, shoulder to shoulder with men, to demand our rights and to protect the future of our children,” said Faiza, another activist.

I paid a visit recently to Surbandan, the Maulana’s hometown 25 kilometres from Gwadar. I went to his house and met his mother Taj Bibi, commonly known as Taji. She shed tears for her son during conversation.

Taji travelled all the way from Surbandan to Gwadar to participate in the women’s rally. Dressed in traditional Balochi attire, she personifies defiance and fortitude.

Making a victory sign, she held aloft a banner, reading: “Release Maulana Hidayatur Rehman.”

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2023

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