Baloch protesters hold onto hope despite ‘violent crackdown’

Published December 24, 2023
Baloch women sit outside the National Press Club in Islamabad holding portraits of their missing loved ones. — Photo by the writer
Baloch women sit outside the National Press Club in Islamabad holding portraits of their missing loved ones. — Photo by the writer

ISLAMABAD: Durnaz Bibi* arrived in Islamabad alongside hundreds of Baloch protesters on Wednesday night, for the recovery of their loved ones who had been forcibly disappeared, but instead of justice, she along with others, faced the wrath of the state.

When Dawn approached her outside the press club, she was trying to balance a toddler in her arms. The child tightly held onto the picture of a loved one, who had been missing for more than three years. “Her mother is at the forefront of this march and I am looking after the kid for now,” Durnaz Bibi told Dawn.

After they arrived in Islamabad, the protesters faced a violent crackdown at the hands of the police, which detained over 200 protesters and only released them after the intervention of the high court. In light of the crackdown, the long march led by the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) has now converted into a sit-in outside the National Press Club.

“There is strength in numbers but today most of our fellows, who were here to receive us, have been booked. There are 14 whose whereabouts are unknown,” said Dr Mahrang Baloch, one of the organisers of the protest.

Dr Mahrang says every protester has a harrowing tale to tell; they have ‘witnessed far worse’

“Every person at the protest carries a tale [of sorrow] and some are longing to see their loved ones for more than a decade. Infants have grown without their fathers and yet here we are raising our voices to question the deafening silence of the state,” she lamented.

Their camp outside the press club was surrounded by a contingent of police, who claimed they were deployed to protect the protesters.

But Baloch protesters have complained about the treatment at the hands of the Islamabad police. “Jannat Bibi was clutching onto the photo of her son when the police charged towards her and in this panic, she also lost her shoes,” said Saima*, who translated the grievances of the ailing Jannat Bibi.

Another participant claimed that her clothes were ripped when the police rounded her up. Similar claims were shared by other protesters. Mahzeb Baloch, a student in 10th grade, said she had been in the capital for the past few weeks for the protest camp. Ms Baloch told Dawn that she faced violence when she alongside other participants went to receive the marchers on the outskirts of the capital.

“They kept us in a cell with a ‘deranged’ woman, who abused us and kept attempting to harm us and called us ‘terrorists’,” she claimed. The police ignored our requests to be moved to a different place,“ she added.

The police, however, denied mistreatment of protesters in a statement.

Speaking about the police’s response to their protest, Dr Mahrang Baloch, one of the representatives of BYC, said they have seen much worse. “We have carried desecrated bodies of our loved ones, and the generations standing in front of you today have witnessed far worse.”

Another organiser Sammi Deen Baloch also appeared resolute. She said the “violent response meted out to them by the state” would not deter the spirits of the protesters. She said they would not walk back on their demands, which included the recovery of missing persons.

Dr Mahrang said the rights abuses in Balochistan could not be entirely blamed on the ongoing insurgency and added that the Baloch community had been through immense pain. The perils faced by the Baloch “are not in a vacuum rather the issues of enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings are plaguing the entire country”, she added.

According to the march leader, they had not arrived in Islamabad for justice, as others before them had come here demanding the same. “We are only here to ask if the state we live in is merely a military state: where are the other state institutions, the judiciary, the government?”

In response to the allegations levelled at the police, the police claimed there had been a ‘false information campaign’ against them following the crackdown on the marchers.

“No women or children were subjected to any maltreatment at any time during Baloch Yakjehti March on 21-22 of December. None of them was harmed… All women had been sent with their relatives or friends with care. All men have been produced before the court of law and shall be released through due process as per directions of a ministerial committee formed by the prime minister,” the tweet on ‘X’, formerly Twitter, read.

Names have been with held for security concerns.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2023

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