I have taken a grave decision and it’s not without a cause. If not in life, maybe my death will make people understand that our fight is just. Latif Johar
KARACHI: Sitting in a camp outside the Karachi Press Club, Latif Johar, 23, has not eaten a morsel of food for the past 10 days now. A member of the Baloch Student Organisation-Azad (BSO), he has been on a hunger strike protesting the recent kidnapping of BSO chairman Zahid Baloch in Quetta.
Hailing from Naal in Khuzdar, Zahid Baloch was picked up on March 18. Zahid’s wife, who had also been at the camp a few days ago, has gone back to Quetta to lodge an FIR of her husband’s kidnapping, says Johar.
Wearing a dark grey shalwar kameez, dark circles form around his eyes and shoulders appear sagged but he holds himself erect as if in defiance while speaking about the unabated kidnapping of Baloch students in various districts and tehsils of Balochistan.
Surrounded by other students in the camp, filled with pictures of those considered to be ‘missing’, he speaks about how it feels to be “a stranger in our own land.”
A central committee member of BSO-Azad from Awaran, he says, “It took us 36 hours to reach Karachi. One reason was the dilapidated condition of roads. Also, we couldn’t take a single route, and had to take many turns on our way lest we should be picked up by the security forces before reaching our destination.”
The threat and cost of being picked up or being watched protesting over anything is too big, he says.
“Zahid Baloch and many others before him are known for their free speech and straight thinking when it comes to the rights of the Baloch people. We are not spectators watching others being manhandled or mistreated. We are a direct victim of state oppression.”
A soft-spoken person, his eyes get a sunken look as he says that just a night ago, he saw “four heavy vehicles patrolling the lanes opposite our camp.”
Before coming to Karachi, Johar says, he wrote letters to national and international rights groups, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, although many student groups do not agree with the figures of ‘missing persons’ reported by the rights organisation.
Johar says the reason is not negligence rather than a lack of communication on the part of both students’ families and the officials. “Mama Qadeer (head of an advocacy group named Voice of Missing Baloch Persons) gets phone calls and information from all over Balochistan. It involves not only students but shepherds and daily wage earners from far-off areas and mountains whose family members have also gone missing. But it is difficult for the HRCP to know all of this without being in communication with one of our students or members. We believe they are also facing threats.”
Nevertheless, he said, the HRCP has been “quite forthcoming with their help regarding the issue of missing persons and abducted student leaders, which is reassuring.”
Speaking once again about his hometown, he says, “Our books are a recent threat to the law enforcement agencies. Students are stopped at checkpoints or randomly by the roadside to get their bags checked.
“Leave alone reading Marx or Lenin, we can’t carry our subject books because it intimidates the security forces posted outside our colleges.”
After having completed his Bachelor of Arts, Johar says he discontinued studies as many of his colleagues and friends went ‘missing’ around the same time.
About his protest and hunger strike, he says, it will continue. “I have taken a grave decision and it’s not without a cause. If not in life, maybe my death will make people understand that our fight is just. And we are fighting for the rights of the oppressed. If I’m dead tomorrow, there is another Latif Johar waiting in line to take our cause forward.”