Collateral Damage had the honour of talking to Banuk Karima Baloch, the current Chairperson of the Baloch Student Organization-Azad (BSO-Azad), the largest Baloch student body. The interview was conducted by Jahanzeb Hussain, the editor of Collateral Damage.
This is the first time a woman is the head of a student organization in Balochistan. What are your feelings on being called to lead BSO-Azad?
Since in our organization there is no gender discrimination, men and women are participating in the national struggle side by side. During my time as the leader of the organization, I have never felt that I am different or inferior based on the fact that I am a woman. However, I am happy that the participation of my Baloch sisters in the freedom struggle has changed the thinking of the Baloch society toward women. With the resurrection of the national movement, many conservative traditions have now disappeared. Baloch women are, compared to the past, a lot more free and active.
Women of Balochistan are playing an important role in the campaign for the missing persons. We know about Farzana, the sister of Zakir Majid, and many others. What impact will this phenomenon have on the Baloch nationalist movement? How does the Baloch society react to the participation of women in political activities?
As I stated, attitudes toward women in the Baloch society have evidently changed. Today, people feel proud at the participation of women in the national movement. Banuk Farzana, Banuk Sami Baloch and the rest of the sisters, due to their brave efforts, are looked upon as the symbols of the national movement. If you look at it, our population is small and is geographically dispersed; and so the women, who are half of our population, have played an instrumental role in solidifying our movement.
I also want to point out that the state and its agencies are left scratching their heads thanks to this trend. They are trying to come up with new ways to harass and threaten Baloch women so that their progress could be curtailed, so that they are unable to participate in the national movement. Last year, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, in the Baloch area of Quetta, carried out a bomb attack inside a girls’ college. The creation of a new Islamic group in Panjgur recently and the threats to shut down women’s education are other examples of the state policy. Last year in Turbat, Pakistani secret and security services raided a couple of education institutes, destroyed all the education materials, and later sold those institutes. These were those institutions where education and progress of women was encouraged and preferred.
What has been the response of women’s rights groups in other parts of Pakistan?
No noteworthy organization has supported us in regard to women’s rights. However, we do have some contacts with the regional coordinators of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan about this issue.
What is your view on the present social and economic condition of women in Balochistan? What are the main challenges and how can they be overcome ?
Despite being laden with natural resource, Balochistan is one of the least developed ares in the world. It is not just the women who are affected by the colonial rule Pakistan has imposed on us; every single Baloch person if forced to live a life of a second-class citizen. According the government’s own statistics, 52.2% of of the population of Balochistan is suffering from malnutrition. But in reality, a far higher number is malnourished. Apart from that, the UN Population Fund has noted that the infant mortality rate is at extremely dangerous levels. Every 20 minutes, a woman dies during child birth.
The point that I am trying to make is that it is due to the oppressive system Pakistan has imposed on us and the public’s ignorance about it that people are under so much suffering. If Balochistan does not free itself from Pakistani rule, it will continue to suffer from poverty, destitution, and social and cultural decay.
Is there any particular female figure in the history of Balochistan who inspires you?
In the Baloch history, I pay tribute to Hatun Bibi and the sacrifices she made in the struggle against the occupiers of Balochistan in Iran. She bravely fought alongside her family, especially Dad Shah, against the enemies.
The Pakistani state is in the process of normalizing the Taliban using ‘peace talks.’ Does this pose any particular danger to women’s rights?
In fact, the only difference between Taliban and the decision makers in Pakistan is their costumes and outward mannerisms. Both have the same mindset. And who does not know that the Taliban are Pakistan’s own creation? It is only a handful of the rebellious Taliban groups that the state wants to negotiate with; the likes of the Haqqani group and the Afghan Taliban are still being used by Pakistan as its tools. As long as the ISI is there, the Taliban and organizations such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and others will continue to thrive. Both men and women would suffer from tyranny as a result
In the present situation where the margin for legal political activities in Balochistan is becoming thinner and thinner, what strategy do you plan to adopt?
For us, peaceful struggle has been turned into a lethal poison. During the previous three years, many of our members have been brutally killed and thousands have been abducted. Two month back, the chairman of my organization was kidnapped right in front of my eyes. Before that, in 2009, the vice-chairman of our organization Zakir Majeed was kidnapped by the secret services while he was attending a crowded procession. He is still missing. Alongside the BSO-Azad, Majeed’s family struggled tirelessly for his released but in vain.
What I want to say is that the noose has been tightened around our necks. But regardless of that, we continue to persist. Even if the state continues to behave toward us as if it has no conscience, we will not relent from our peaceful and just struggle. Peaceful struggle is our right under international law. The more the savagery of the state, the more we will continue to resist, persevere and rise.
Are there any efforts in hand on your part to contact the student organizations of other provinces, particularly Sindh, in order to enlarge your solidarity base?
Various student organizations have helped us in our campaign to demand the release of BSO-Azad’s chairman Zahid Baloch. In Karachi and elsewhere, they held protests and rallies in our support. In many areas, human rights groups have shown deep solidarity with us and with Lateef Johar, who is on a hunger strike unto death. We are trying to increase our collaboration with these groups; at least on the grounds of solidarity, we should remain associated and keep our relations going.
?What message you would like to convey to the people, especially to the women of Pakistan
I would like the Baloch people, especially women, to focus on education and become part of the fight against tyranny and slavery, so that Balochistan can be freed and made into an exemplary nation where there is no discrimination based on ethnicity, caste, gender, class, etc.