For the Baloch who are missing and others who will be too
Farzana knows her brother is alive; he sent buttons of his shirt with another man who had been released from custody.
I cried for days when my cat died. But I was better off than my little cousin whose dog got kidnapped.
We still wonder if Toffee, who came as a puppy 13 years ago, is alive. We wonder if she is given food on time. If she is safe. Whenever she comes to mind, in our hearts we hope that she died too.
Think about how you feel when your child gets late from school and you don’t know where your baby is, think about how you feel when you lose a pet, and then imagine what families of missing persons go through, Muhammad Hanif said at a session for Baloch missing persons at the Karachi Literature Festival two weeks ago.
And that’s when I understood. Good for me that I can only relate to it to the extent of missing a dog. Good for me that I am not talking about a man I love. But as IA Rehman said that afternoon,
“If you don’t speak for the Baloch now, tomorrow you will be missing.”
A Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s booklet titled The Baloch Who is Not Missing and Others Who Are tells a few stories on the depth of this tragedy, and it necessitates some introspection.
Muhammad Hanif, the author, categorically blamed the media for not covering the daily humanitarian catastrophe.
Why isn’t it breaking news that Zakir Majeed has been missing for more than three years? he asked.
Well maybe it isn’t because Abdul Samad may have been missing for 11, and Saleem’s body was found tortured beyond identification that very day. Maybe if Zakir was taken on the front page, many stories of the day would be about the ‘missing’ – the number goes in thousands, the stories are countless.
It’s also true that the media is nothing more than a product of this society, which is often lost in a political circus. If only we had spent a fifth of the time talking about enforced disappearances than we did for Tahirul Qadri, it could have made a difference.
That afternoon, Zakir’s sister Farzana said something that highlights the perplexity of the victims.
“It’s not the fault of media organisations that we don’t get coverage because spy agencies go through the content of a newspaper before it is published,” she said.
Who is going to tell Farzana that intelligence officials don't scan a newspaper before it is printed?
Who will tell her that nobody really cares?
That the missing persons were never a part of our collective conscience?
When this newspaper first started we frequently published features on the death of fundamental rights in Balochistan, reported daily on bullet-riddled being bodies being found in parts of the province and carried protests by the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons in the best way that we knew. But there came a time when we stepped back. The security of reporters had to be prioritised.
In either case, it is difficult to keep a story alive unless it becomes part of the national narrative.
How many times must you write one thing to make it to a drawing room conversation?
What does it take for people who worry about Palestine nearly 2,000 miles away to see that there is blood on their hands too?
What we are dealing with in Pakistan is perhaps a dehumanisation of society. Maybe it’s a natural consequence of decades of disorder. But regardless of where it stems from, we need to fight it out.
At a time when only the number of dead has come to matter, the missing persons cannot be forgotten.
Farzana knows her brother is alive because he sent the buttons of his shirt with another man who had been released from custody. I never want to know if my brother is alive like that.
Human life must be sacred again.
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