I was not shocked at all. I know such things happen in a society where the religious and political narratives are highly concentrated on controlling the “inappropriate interactions” between male and female.
I am referring to the notice issued by the University of Turbat’s Office of the Registrar (Kech) on Wednesday March 18, 2016.
The notice denotes that “in view of our religious and cultural bindings and complaints by parents, inappropriate interaction between male and female students hereby strictly prohibited within the university premises.”
In the next para, the author of the notice clarifies what he means by inappropriate interaction: a man and a woman are not allowed to “sit anywhere in the university premises”. However, relaxing the restriction, it says “they may sit in groups of three or more”. It means if you have witness sitting at your necks and watching your “inappropriate interaction”, you don’t have to worry at all.
The notice is copied and pasted, having exactly the same wordings of a similar notice by the Sargodha University, Lahore. Earlier, many other Pakistani universities such as NUST have also issued similar moral policing rules for their campuses.
It seems that the trend for moral policing of universities doesn’t emanate from Kech, or not due to the complaints by parents, but it’s a scheme of an interest group wanting to Talibanize the education system across Pakistan.
However, the vice-chancellor of the Turbat University, according to the Haalawal news website, was shocked when enquired about the notice. The mystery was resolved when they confirmed that the registrar of the university issued the notice bypassing the VC and Pro- VC. It is not confirmed whether the registrar is being used as an escape-goat or he really had the guts to issue such a notice without the prior approval of his bosses. The good news is the notice was later termed null and void through a notification.
Since the notice evokes the terms “cultural and religious bindings”, let us ponder over what cultural bindings can stop getting together of a couple. Glancing over the whole Baloch classical poetry, you can’t find a single stance where a girl and boy were restricted, prohibited or punished over sitting as a couple. Baloch women led war as commanders. Banari is the most cited example.
In the classical poetry, we can find references where Baloch woman had the power to divorce their husbands. Since the classic literature is only authentic surviving source of understanding Baloch culture, we reject such claims that Baloch society does not allow such interaction.
If the notice implied that the Baloch cultural bindings prohibit extra-marital sex, yes they do, like every other society in the world with varying degree of severity.
Kech had been such a liberal area in Balochistan where female singers used to entertain the audiences with their sweet voices when the night fell and men used to dance on the rhythms of their songs.
The women were the safe-keeper of Balochi folklores, and even the clergy class attended their story-telling sessions. No one raised an inch of objection to their performances. No Fatwa was ever issued by a Mullah.
Baloch, the people of Kech in particular, have no appetite for evoking religious principles to define the values of their lives. Still, many are so nostalgic for female folk singers that they possess boxes full of their recorded songs and start their morning listening to them. My father still have more than 30 collections of Gulok, Han Bibi, Durrok and many othesr.
In early 90s, when my generation was in school, I was enrolled in a government school in small village of Turbat. I shared my desk with a girl for 10 years. All the classes were co-ed. Never there emerged any complaint of misappropriate interaction.
The recently established Turbat University in Kech has has come to existence after a long fight. A month ago, it won a business project award at Pakistan level. The notice in such a highly important educational institution should not be taken lightly. This seems to me as the tip of an iceberg as some religiously fanatics want to get rid of Kech’s liberal society. Unchecked and supervised by the state, the fanatics can bring hell over the city.
The incident is part of the growing influence of moral policing in Turbat, a place where religious organisations have been let lose by the state to achieve certain “strategic goals”. Besides, the resistance movement in Balochistan this time has a minority with a strong sense of honour, and have attempted to curtail “vulgarity” in some parts of Kech. They have written poems asking “Baloch girls” to cover themselves properly.
Baloch traditions guarantee absolute liberty to women and there is no such restriction prohibiting talking to any man in the absence of a third person. Guests in villages, where Tableeghi Jamaat is not let to preach, are still received by women in the absence of male members of the family.
Even the concept of fencing houses is alien to the Baloch culture. In old times, perhaps before 1980s, everybody was welcome in the house as a member of family.
Shockingly, no political party, both parliamentarians and separatists, had time to condemn the notice which is part of a nefarious design to radicalise Baloch society. The Baloch Students Organization, all of its factions, did not bother to issue a condemnation statement, which is their favourite activity.
Radicalisation of Kech will be the greatest achievement of religious extremists. The Turbat University case should be taken as seriously as possible.
If unchecked by liberal Baloch forces, including the civil society ( God knows if they exist), teacher associations, lawyers, NGOs, media, students, and every single Kechi, there will come a day when they won’t be able to walk along with their sisters and wives. It would also end the gradual rise of the thriving Kechi girls who had recently won laurels in education.