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BALOCHISTAN: Mahrang and the others
  • ?BALOCHISTAN: Mahrang and the others
    ?BALOCHISTAN: Mahrang and the others
They set out last November 23, marching from Kech district on the border with Iran to the capital Islamabad. Thousands of Balochistan residents marched on foot for one thousand six hundred kilometers, filling squares and streets and resisting constant attempts by police to bar their way. Until, arriving in Islamabad, they were assaulted by security forces armed with sticks, water cannons and tear gas. Hundreds were injured, two hundred and fifty arrested. Among them Mahrang Baloch, a young woman, who became the face and soul of the uprising. Because this time, leading yet another 'Long March' of Baloch protests are women. Mothers, daughters, sisters and wives of the thousands of people who disappear each year in the region at the hands of the Pakistani army and the so-called 'Death Squads' to which the army has contracted private prisons and torture cells. With children in tow, many with little ones in their arms, they set out to walk as the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo did before them: hoping that the world will notice what is happening. Because in Balochistan, a region illegally occupied by Pakistan in 1948, a cultural and physical genocide has been going on for many, too many years: a full-blown ethnic cleansing that Pakistan has now been conducting on a large scale for almost two decades amid the indifference and silence of the rest of the world. Every year thousands of people disappear: taken by the army, law enforcement or death squads and never seen again. Sometimes they reappear, killed and dumped by the roadside with signs of torture on them. Or in mass graves, discovered by chance and immediately concealed by the state: or even, devoid of organs, thrown like garbage on hospital rooftops. They are intellectuals, human rights activists, dissident politicians, students, journalists, professors. They are young men, old men, women and even children: guilty only of being sons or brothers of a dissident but, above all, of being Baloch. In the region Pakistan carries out its nuclear tests, in the region it has kept the Taliban wanted by the Americans hidden for years, in the region there are more military bases than hospitals or schools, in the region the Chinese have built real open-air prisons for the Balochs in the name of development and progress brought by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Because Balochistan, the most resource-rich region in Pakistan, is the poorest in the country in terms of per capita income. This is not the first time that Baloch people have marched in protest, but it is the first time that women have been the driving force behind the uprising. Because Baloch women traditionally go to school, enjoy de facto equality with men. Because they are tired of waiting, tired of silence. Tired of just being victims. There are hundreds of cases of women kidnapped, detained and tortured, used as sex slaves by the military and then thrown away alive or more often dead. Those who survive hardly speak out: out of modesty, out of fear that the same thing will happen to other family members, because they fear for their lives. Karima Baloch, who had been president of the Baloch Students Association for ten years and was then forced to flee to Canada, was brutally murdered in Toronto. Her death, which local authorities never really dealt with, was passed off as a suicide. We hope to see Mahrang alive again, to see all those who were arrested. For those who approach Balochistan, physically or with pen and voice, those who break the blanket of silence, die. Or comes to a bad end. Because Balochistan is the skeleton in the closet, a closet already crammed with bulky skeletons, of Pakistan. A closet protected by a blanket of silence as thick as a steel curtain. A silence that the world should listen to before it is too late, and only a name remains of Balochistan, and of Mahrang and the others.
Francesca Marino