“They promised: they would return my father in few days but few days have turned into four years and nine months.”
When thousands of people marched on the roads of Karachi – the capital of Sindh province in Pakistan deepening gloom was palpable on their faces. All of them were in desperate searching. Some of them were completely broken but still hope kept them alive.
“My mother and sister are unwell but they can’t be treated. There is no one to look after my family. I am searching for my father,” says Marui Kandhero with a choked voice. Her father was abducted and she doesn’t know who abducted him and for what reasons. Another young woman Afsa Daayo joins the conversation and asks, “I want to know where I should go and give my Da’haan (complaint), and are we not citizens of the state?”
The city of Karachi – saw two protests month of February held by Sindhi and Baloch families whose beloved ones were abducted.
Thousands of Sindhi and Baloch citizens of Pakistan have been facing a major identity crisis for decades but the abduction of their family members and the ignorance of the government to their plea has added woes to the despair.
In search of identity
The protest is not just an agitation. It has roots way back in Indus civilization. Balochistan has Mehrgarh and Sindh has Mohen-jo-Daro that links the regions to ancient civilizations. These provinces share borders and culture for centuries.
Hinglaj mata temple at Lasbela, Balochistan and Mahadev temple in Karachi, Sindh connect people, culture, and civilizations.
Sassui and Punhoo love story in folk is famous in South Asia region and among locals. Sassui, a daughter of a king belonged to Sindh. She was abandoned in her childhood by her father as astrologers predicted her as doom for him. She was raised by a washerman. Punhoo, a prince hailed from Balochistan who fell in love with Sassui.
The love affair between the two also reflects in the bonding between two regions which have repeatedly complained of exploitation of resources. The regions have witnessed separatist movements.
Balochistan was merged with Pakistan on April 8, 1948 since then insurgency has been observed in different time of periods: 1950-58, 1973 -78 and 2005 -2008 and till now. Nevertheless, in Musharraf’s rule: when Nawab Akbar Bugti was murdered by the Pakistan military, insurgency erupted.
Videos: Missing Persons in Sindh: Three days turned into Four years and nine months
Baloch Missing Persons’ families, leading March
On the other hand, Sindh province has had its separatist movements – political parties have been raising voice against resources exploitation and injustice by Islamabad.
Missing person Issue
Not surprisingly, hundreds of Sindh and Baloch people go missing every day. People going missing is not new. It exists since Pakistan’s birth says Taj Joyo, the author and human rights activist. In August 2020 he declined the Pride of Performance Award over Sindh’s simmering issues.
“When the country is worried about Kashmir on February 5, we remained unheard,”Missing Persons Family, says.
Sindh and Baloch people allege that former Pakistani dictator Prevaiz Musharraf supported and led abduction policy against Baloch, Sindhis, and Pashtuns – including those who speak their minds.
Musharraf even justified the killing of dissent voices and separatist leaders abroad. No political party has helped people to find their beloved ones. Political promises have remained on papers.
The demand Baloch and Sindh people make is simple. “If our people have committed crime bring them before the law and punish them”.
Maeza Baloch pleads “At least, we should know either they are alive or dead,”
Sarang Sarang Joyo, Joint Secretary, Sindh Sujagi Forum, was abducted on August 11, 2020. Security forces who came in 30 vehicles abducted him from his home. He narrated why intelligent agencies abduct and what kinds of questions they ask. They asked about funding, foreign visits, and weapons. “I am a teacher, I have books, and you can find only books. I don’t have weapons,” Sarang told them.
“They took my 200 books.” They tortured him brutally for seven days. He doesn’t want to recall those horrible days. “They (Security Forces) are more brutal than others,” he said.
Afsa Daayo feels stranger in her own land. She tried to approach Pakistan Peoples’ Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto but his people did not let them meet him. Neither Bilawal Bhutto, institutes, nor Chief Minister of Sindh Murad Ali Shah bothers to listen to us, Afsa complains.
“Where should we go? She asks and says “Are we alien?”
“When the country is worried about Kashmir on February 5, we remained unheard,” says Sagar Sayed Gadhi whose sisters participated in a protest for their brother who was abducted. Nobody covered the protests and nobody bothered to listen to the protesters.
Among the protestors, there was a young girl whose name was Paras (17) sitting next to her grandmother and holding her father’s picture. Her ailing father was beaten up by some men and policemen. The family was asked to shut up and threatened by abducting all of them.
“They promised: they would return my father in few days but few days have turned into four years and nine months,” says Paras.
In another protest by Baloch families young girl from Khuzdar traveled to Karachi for protest and wanted to know about her family member. Hundreds of others accompanied her with the same issues. While Baloch families were protesting, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto, attending a program at Art Council did not bother to meet them.
Agonized Mama Qadeer Baloch says “Bilawal Bhutto should have shown the courage to say a word to Baloch daughters who are standing under the sun.”
Sammi Baloch, activist has been protesting for 11 years for her father asks Pakistan Human Rights organizations and activists to support her.
Missing Persons’ Data
Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances states number of missing persons across the country is 8415. Out of this, some got released and some are dead. The number contradicts with numbers quoted by protesters.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) vice president, Qazi Khizer claims that it has collected data of missing persons: Baloch, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Shias.
Mama Qadeer said that in recent two months more than 50 Baloch were abducted and there is a long list of abductions that the state is not acknowledging.
“Leave the list of a missing person – the state is responsible for one person who abducted that person and why the person was abducted,” said HRCP member, Saeed Baloch.
Taj Joyo said, people who are released either are disabled or have a serious illness.
“You cannot solve missing person issue until official authorities are held accountable,” says Saeed Baloch.
The government’s role in solving the missing person issue is questionable. The government brought a bill on missing persons went missing in January 2022.
“We had prepared the bill regarding missing persons and it was passed by the [relevant] standing committee and the National Assembly. But it went missing after it was sent to the Senate,” says Human Minister Dr. Shireen Mazari.
Whereas Mama Qadeer Baloch says that “Bill on missing persons is deliberately stopped because those abduct people, they do not let it pass.”
The protests continue and so does the search for belongingness. The rich civilization beckons the people of Sindh and Balcoh. They are struggling to connect the past and present and live a life with dignity.
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