Another day, another tragedy. As I received a phone call from my friend on June 7th, I got informed about the abduction of Feroz Baloch by the state agencies. I could sense the grief in my friend’s voice. He told me about the sit-in they were planning outside the vice chancellor’s office in the sweltering heat of Rawalpindi. Flashbacks ran through my head; Baloch students of Punjab University protesting on Eid for their fellow Bebagar Baloch who was also illegally abducted.
The campus administration stands liable for having a student get abducted from its grounds. And yet, on top of that, they have been threatening and harassing those who are fighting for his safe recovery.
Feroz Baloch was a student of PMAS Arid Agricultural University, Rawalpindi. A whole month has gone by since his abduction. Like hundreds of Baloch missing persons, his whereabouts are unknown. But one thing we do know is that he has not been to his classes for a month. He, the unfortunate one, would probably be going through agony in some torture cell. Students have been protesting since last month for his safe release and it was the third peace protest in a row. The campus administration stands liable for having a student get abducted from its grounds. And yet, on top of that, they have been threatening and harassing those who are fighting for his safe recovery.
Sitting at my work desk, I recall his mother’s words, “He is the eldest of my children. I sent him this far so that he could have a bright future unlike us. If I knew he would go missing I would have never sent him away from me. To me, 23 days have felt like 23 years.”
I think of Sohail Baloch and Faseeh Baloch, who were abducted from the University of Balochistan, Quetta and have not returned home yet. Their fellow students protested peacefully for months, went on a hunger strike and educational institutes were shut down across the country in solidarity, but to no avail.
“If I knew he would go missing, I would have never sent him away from me. To me, 23 days have felt like 23 years,” says his mother.
The pain and misery felt by the Baloch nation are beyond words – the poor people living in a rich land. They ask for their legitimate rights but are denied those, in every way, by the state. Baloch students studying in universities of Punjab and Sindh are constantly harassed by the state agencies. They are not safe even in their homes. The continuous abduction of one Baloch youth after another haunts them. The only thought that rings in their minds is who would be the next?
In response to continual harassment, threats, illegal abductions, and torture, many Baloch students have chosen the path of militancy, notably in the past few years. I particularly remember the case of two students: Shahdab and Ehsan Baloch, both very well-learned, who quit their education and joined the extremists.
Shahdab and Ehsan Baloch, both, were very bright students. They were critical of the role of our state in perpetrating human rights violations in Balochistan. Tired of their concerns being disregarded by the authorities, they joined BLA – a Baloch separatist militant organization – and were subsequently killed in an ill-fated encounter. This need not have happened; these students deserved a bright future. They should not have ended up with Kalashnikovs and getting killed in their prime. This poses serious questions towards the priorities of the state and the approach taken to engage with its young generation.
In Pakistan, human rights minister Shireen Mazari prepared the bill to criminalize enforced disappearances during the PTI government. But the bill itself went missing.
The 8th of June marks the Baloch Missing Persons Day, wherein hundreds of Balochis pour into streets to protest against one of the worst human rights violations around the world. Enforced disappearances have been happening across Pakistan for the last 2 decades. According to various human rights watchdogs, thousands of people are missing from the southwest of the province. In Pakistan, human rights minister Shireen Mazari prepared the bill to criminalize enforced disappearances during the PTI government. But the bill itself went missing. This incident unveils the dire straits of human rights in the country.
It is high time that Pakistani parliamentarians, security agencies, and courts did introspection and asked themselves what they owe to Pakistan and its future generation. And if they can’t serve the future generation of this country then who are they serving? If Pakistan wants to become a true democracy, then all state institutions must work together to encourage tolerance for criticism, free thinking, and free speech. Baloch people and Baloch students should feel secure and should be able to raise their concerns without the fear of being illegally abducted and disappeared. They ought to have pens in their hands, and not guns.
The author is the Central Spokesperson of Progressive Students Collective.