Sammi Deen Baloch
Pakistan’s security services have ‘disappeared’ Baloch people for 20 years, yet we are portrayed as terrorists. We need justice!
Istarted protesting after my father, Dr Deen Mohammed Baloch, was abducted from his hospital in Khuzdar, Balochistan, on 28 June 2009. I became an activist, raising my voice against the heinous crime of enforced disappearances: more than 5,000 people are missing in Balochistan.
In the 13 years since my father was taken, I have spent most of my time on roads, in front of journalists’ press clubs across Pakistan – with a photograph in my hand, asking a simple question: “Where is my father? What is his crime?”
Enforced disappearances in my home province is a decades-old issue, from when the Balochistan nationalist movement began in the early 2000s.
In 2014, I, along with other relatives of missing people, marched 2,000km (1,200 miles) over 116 days from Quetta to the capital, Islamabad. As a 15-year-old, with my swollen feet, I thought going to the capital would make those in power have some mercy. I was wrong.
My mother does not know whether she is a widow or still married. We deserve to know the truth – whether my father is alive or dead.
If my father is alive, he should be released or brought to a court of law. If he has been killed, we should be given proof.
I have spent 13 years in this struggle to know the truth but I have never been as humiliated, harassed, beaten and verbally abused as I was at our recent peaceful protest in Karachi.
One police man grasped my hand forcefully and another held me by the neck. I felt as if my bones were going to be fractured.
My sister, Mehlab Baloch, was slapped three times. Bakhtawar, a fellow activist who was filming, had her phone snatched by the police. She was dragged along the road. This was all caught on camera and the video widely shared.
Police mocked us after throwing us in their van. We were warned not to protest or else they would “drag and beat us” more.
The police told me: “You think you are a leader and are at the forefront. We will teach you a lesson.”
Our headscarves were removed. The officers threatened us by saying to each other: “Once their shalwars [trousers] are removed, then they will stop protesting.”
They called us disgraced women, accusing us of protesting to win fame and to appear in the media.
We were released at about 2am.
The state and its security agencies have responded to the separatist movement with a “kill and dump” policy and are forcefully disappearing students, lawyers, doctors, political activists and their sympathisers.
Last year, I, along with other representatives of missing persons’ families, met the former prime minister Imran Khan, who was a critical voice on the issue before coming to power. Khan now seems to be a toothless tiger.
His human rights minister, Shireen Mazari, introduced a bill against enforced disappearances. The irony was that the bill itself went missing.
Now, after losing power, Khan’s party is once again denouncing enforced disappearances.
In the same way, Maryam Nawaz, [vice-president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, then the main opposition party], visited us last year and criticised Imran Khan for his false promises. She assured us that action would be taken if her party came to power.
Nawaz’s uncle, Shehbaz Nawaz, is prime minister now but they seem helpless before the security agencies.
Women’s organisations in Pakistan do not raise their voices for Baloch women and the violence against us. This is saddening.
We come from respectable families and we are not happy to be demonstrating on the streets. Our men have disappeared – that’s why Baloch women, from a conservative province, are coming out of their homes to protest.
I would rather focus on my career like other young women. But how can one if your father, husband or brother is missing?
In April, there was a female suicide bomber, Shari Baloch. Since then the state has cracked down against activists, students and women, saying that we are all terrorists.
We have nothing to do with such violent activities. We don’t support violence.
I am not demanding anything unlawful – enforced disappearance is unlawful. I just want my father back.
Am I asking for something illegal? The state may portray us as terrorists after Shari’s attack but we are not. We are peaceful protesters. We suffer every moment of every day.
Sammi Deen Baloch is general secretary of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), a group that formed alongside the separatist movement in Pakistan