It’s Eid today and, instead of celebrating, we will be in front of a press club asking for our family members. We cannot stop because those who abduct us never do. Ramzan or Eid, they do not rest.
In my homeland, our loved ones disappear almost every day. We find deformed bodies in deserts and forests, we find rotten bones under our soil. If some of the missing persons do return after years of detention, they return not as the same person.
I cannot rest.
I live in a land, known as Balochistan, which for many is not a geographic entity but just an imagination. Sometimes I feel it does not even exist, or at least its people don’t. Because if we do exist how can we cease to exist all of a sudden, how could we just become a photograph overnight.
I live in a land where merely living is an act of courage, where you have to let go of all your joys and desires, where happiness and peace are only imaginary and where there is constantly an atmosphere of fear.
I have become a stranger in my own land. I am questioned who I am.
In Balochistan, justice is fictitious and courts are made for empty promises. Government officials are indifferent. Not many speak out against injustice and if they dare to speak they too would cease to exist. Whisked away. Just like that.
I live in a land where life is a quest, with children in search of their father, mothers looking for their sons, sisters in pursuit of their loving brothers. With pictures. But those pictures do not make for the soul that is missing. Eventually, that quest grows and essentially becomes the only way we know how to live. This is the scenario of most homes in Balochistan, the tale of mothers and the narrative of daughters and sisters.
I have been living like that for 11 years now.
On June 28, 2009, I received a call from Ornach Hospital informing me of the abduction of my father, Dr Deen Mohammad Baloch. My life, all those memories that I had lived with Baba, all shattered. With that news, the happy life of our family disappeared like our Baba.
After his disappearance, it seemed as if life was over, but the quest for justice was just beginning. At the age of ten, I took a portrait of my father and decided to go out in search of him. I was forced to bear a burden on my shoulders that weighed too much for my age but I had to, for my Baba and for humanity.
I still remember going to Quetta and Karachi with my younger sister, Mehlab, to participate in hunger strike camps. Whenever I saw children holding books and bags, I wondered why I had to hold the picture of my missing father instead.
Those moments were extremely gut-wrenching for me when I wiped away the tears of my family but had no words of consolation. Those days I felt so helpless. And incompetent. I wished I could bring peace to my family and bring back my father. The situation didn’t let me live peacefully and so my struggle for the safe release of my father is on-going.
The time spent without my Baba has been tormenting.
The tortuous memories of the early days make my soul restless, and the last unsaid goodbye to my father remains unforgettable. There is no greater agony than the question that constantly looms above my head — will I ever see my father again?
Gradually, the battles of my life widened. There was a struggle to save my home, protest against state atrocities and struggle for education. I also carried banners and chanted slogans to save my educational institution–the school where the Pakistani army built outposts.
I not only had to campaign for my father but also be the head of my family and look after its shattered dreams. I continued my studies with extreme difficulty while taking care of my sick mother and younger sister, all while staying active for my father’s recovery.
The pain and trauma that come with someone so close to you go missing for years are unavoidable but it’s up to you whether you suffer in silence or speak out. I will endure as long as I can. At the start of my battle, I was fragile; this journey of longing and finding was so hard. Now the atrocities and injustice of the state have molded me into a stronger and more resilient person.
State brutalities increased over the years, many lives were ruined like mine. With that, the caravan grew. Ten years ago I was not accompanied by many. Now Hasseba, Seema, Sameena, mother Jamila and thousands of others are demanding the safe release of their loved ones. A few years ago there were a few pictures alongside my Baba’s but today there are thousands of other portraits at Baloch missing persons camps. It does not mean that there were fewer missing persons in Balochistan a decade ago, rather many people didn’t come ahead to protest. Some were given false hopes that their loved ones would return. Nothing worked.
If justice is not served the number of such portraits will keep growing and the cries of those carrying them will keep echoing.
Mothers are dying in the grief of their sons, women are half widowed and children do not know whether they have been orphaned.
After my father’s disappearance, we received a call every three months, giving us a date of the court hearing and we were summoned for them. To us, it was not just a date but a hope of our father coming back. These due dates kept expiring.
Appearing before the court and asking for justice has been painful too. I remember when we would travel through rough and rocky roads of Mashkey and reach Khuzdar and then Quetta, a day before the due date. We would sit outside the court in the freezing cold of Quetta. Our grandmother would always be with us and would wrap us in her shawl. We would wait from morning till evening. Our grandmother would repeatedly ask when our turn would come. Witnesses and statements would be presented in the proceedings and sometimes my father would be accused and sometimes the security personnel would deny his disappearance.
One day, finally it was ordered that my father, Dr Deen Muhammad Baloch, should be recovered and presented before the court. Of course, it gave us hope. But that hope did not last, like all good things in Balochistan. My father did not return and the date of the next hearing with him in the court kept changing.
This is what has happened to us every time in the courts but I’m still hopeful. I’m hopeful because having hope is the most difficult thing to do in this world when all you’ve endured is pain. Incidences such as when I saw my grandmother crying and begging to a judge to help release her son have broken my heart and tested my resolve. But I have kept going and will keep going.
That is why I do not celebrate eid. That is why I will be in front of a press club today. Protesting gives me hope.
Crying for my father is the only way I know how to live. What I would be doing at home on Eid I do not know. I knew that beautiful Eid feeling once when my father was with us. But not in the last 11 years. I have nothing against festivals. I want happiness too. I long for it. It’s just that I have to search for my father, that cannot be put on hold. I have to have hope, and I do.