The unsung heroes


Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Mir Muhammad Ali TalpurThe historic Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) Long March ended on 1st March when the brave and selfless marchers, after having marched for 106 days, reached Islamabad. This monumental effort galvanized the Baloch and stirred into action many political organizations and individuals. An important aspect of this Long March, which was by and large ignored by civil society, the mainstream political parties and sadly even by the Left with some exceptions in Punjab, was the wholehearted participation of Baloch students studying in Punjab; they devoted their time and energy to the March after it entered Punjab.

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The participation of Baloch students in this historic long March came at a price for them because when the marchers entered Punjab they were having exams and the choice was between appearing in the exams and participating in the March. They opted for the March and many skipped their papers because they felt the priority for them was their Baloch Nation and not their careers. Those studying on scholarships faced the danger of scholarships being rescinded and most faced the danger of being penalized for their participation in the March.

The participation wasn’t easy in any way; they would come from their hostels every morning via vans and coaches and assemble at the place where the Marchers had stopped in the evening and wait for the Team VBMP to arrive and once they arrived they would help set up the pictures in the cart which the Marchers pushed and once the March was underway they would form a cordon around the group because of the bitter experience of the truck trying to run over the Marchers in RenalaKhurd and incidents of rowdiness at SaraiAlamgir where some persons came and used foul language against the Marchers. This daily coming and going certainly put a huge burden on their limited resources but this didn’t deter them and they kept coming with clockwork regularity. Although the March itself was an epitome of energy and activity with all the walking and chants of slogans by the brave Banuks; the presence of these young students with their slogans and activity added an aura of youthfulness and energy to the March.

These brave youth not only joined the March but on their own had thousands of pamphlets, 20000 in fact, enunciating aims of the long March printed, and distributed them among the bystanders and persons passing by in vehicles to make people aware of the demands of the Marchers. Printing required money and distributing required extra effort to go to people and hand out the pamphlets. But this wasn’t the only expense they had to undertake; the daily conveyance and the food and tea during the day also burdened their meagre resources.

It is something else that Air Vice Marshal ® ShehzadChaudhry on March 1st quite blatantly lied on Capital TV program when he said that Mama Abdul Qadeer, the leader of the VBMP Long March has a Thuraya satellite phone and that he wouldn’t be surprised if there were there three or four Land Cruisers with them. To put the record straight Mama had a cheap Nokia phone and the only vehicle accompanying the Marchers was an ambulance provided by Edhi Foundation. The TV One channel ran a ticker that Rs 2 million were being given to the Marchers daily and that food for them came from 5 star hotels. The fact is that the marchers ate whatever food was available from wayside hotels and twice the owners refused to accept money for the food or tea taken. The core group of marchers numbering 20 was housed for the night by different individuals who in turn were friends of supporters and provided whatever dinner and breakfast they could manage. These individuals had to face harassment of the intelligence agencies for playing host to the Marchers. AslamVerraich, an artist and political activist, played host to them at his residence in Wazirabad for six nights. The supposedly informed analysts and some TV channel lied unashamedly to malign the March and its participants because this March took the battle to the establishment’s heartland.

Most of the Baloch students had their faces covered either with surgical masks or with handkerchiefs to avoid being recognized, for they knew that the unforgiving and unanswerable intelligence agencies would certainly make them an object of their wrath. This became all the more clear when some intelligence personnel near Rawalpindi told the students in unequivocal terms that they may hide their faces behind masks as much as they like but they were known and would be fixed sooner rather than later for daring to join the March and defying the establishment. To their credit these brave boys remained undeterred and unfazed by the threats and danger and continued to participate with even more vigour.

These threats materialized on Saturday 8th March when at around 2.30 PM three Baloch students Mehran, Muhammad Khalid and Farukh were about to have lunch in the cafeteria of Preston University when a group of 8 or 9 boys came there and said why were they speaking in Balochi and what were they saying. To their query Farukh said how can you disallow us speaking our own language are you the rulers here? They suddenly pounced on the boys with knuckle dusters, bottles, chairs etc; outnumbered they fought back and no one intervened. All three were injured. Khalid head wounds requiring 18 sutures. The police making lame excuses refused to register the FIR. On Monday they had a meeting with the administration which assured them of support but it remains to be seen what action is taken against the culprits who in all probability will go scot free as this wasn’t a random college brawl but an organized attempt to punish the Baloch students for their wholehearted support of the Long March and defiance of the establishment. The agencies by using goons to punish Baloch killed two birds with one stone; it got what it wanted and is free of blame.

The continuing atrocities in Balochistan, the increasing number of missing persons and the change from policy of dumping of abducted persons to interring them in mass graves are serious crimes against humanity but the perpetrators enjoy blanket immunity. Now the scope of aggression has expanded to Baloch studying in Punjab and the Preston University incident may not be the last one as the establishment seeks vengeance from those who participated in or supported the Long March which exposed the ugly face of the establishment to the world at large.

I was fortunate to interact with these brave and dedicated Baloch students, members of National Students Federation (NSF) and members of Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) after I joined the March near Jehlum on the 22nd of February and was graciously hosted by Baloch students, along with other friends, for two nights when we reached Islamabad. It was a pleasure and an honour being with the future of Balochistan. These brave youth have put their careers and their lives at risk for something which they hold dear to their heart. These large hearted boys along with all those who supported the Long March are the great unsung heroes of this great historic Long March and deserve our unreserved respect and love.

The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

Courtesy: View Point

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