Monthly Archives: April 2015
Honor killings, acid attacks, maternal mortality, and illiteracy – life for women in Pakistan’s largest province is grim.
Interestingly, in Balochistan’s more enlightened Makran division, which consists of the Panjgur, Kech and Gawadar districts, female literacy is comparatively high. The reason: Co-educational private schools are flourishing. These schools have produced an educated class of women, who today have established themselves as educators, politicians, and doctors. Among them is Zubaida Jalal, who was born into a poor Baloch family in the town of Mand, in Kech district. From 2002 to 2007, Jalal was the first federal education minister.
In recent years, though, the number of girls dropping out of education has surged, in the wake of attacks and threats to privately-run co-educations institutions in Makran division by religious fundamentalist groups. Parents in Quetta told The Diplomat that in the aftermath of attacks on privately-run schools they were now sending their daughters to government-run institutions. A national daily has reported that the dropout rate is an appalling 70 percent, adding that although co-education schools and colleges exist in Makran, threats from new militant organizations are keeping girls at home. That has given Balochistan the lowest female literacy in Pakistan.
The practice of so-called honor killings drew global attention in 2008, when three teenage girls were buried alive in Balochistan’s Nasirabad district. According to media reports, the girls were taken to remote areas of Nasirabad by the brother of a tribal notable, where they were shot and then buried while still alive. The brother of the accused, a minister under the former provincial government of Nawab Aslam Raisani, denied that his brother was involved, and local journalists were threatened after breaking news of the crime.
The Aurat Foundation (AF), a non-governmental organization working for women’s rights, has reported hundreds of instances of violence against women in Balochistan. In its most recent report, the foundation said that at least 187 cases of violence against women occurred in Balochistan in 2014, compared with 151 cases in 2013. It also reported 75 honor killings, with particularly grim figures for Sibi and Nasirabad divisions.
It should be noted that a great deal of violence goes unreported. Balochistan is the largest province in Pakistan by area, and many villages are remote. There is little investigative reporting, and those journalists who have tried to report on the persecution of women have themselves faced threats.
But violence is not the only threat to women’s health. In rural Balochistan, maternal mortality rates are high. Due to poverty and a lack of awareness, many women are not brought into Quetta to give birth.
“One of my aunts in remote Nushki lost her life during pregnancy,” said a resident of Nushki, adding, “This happens often, because they cannot afford to bring women to the city. That is why they suffer silently and die.”
In rural Balochistan, poverty is extreme. This combined with illiteracy and growing radicalization have compounded the woes of women. The Pakistan Health Demographic Survey (PHDS) reports that Balochistan leads the nation in maternal mortality, with 785 deaths for every 100,000 women, compared to 272 in the rest of the country.
“Outside Quetta, it is common for women to die during pregnancy. Only a few pregnancies are registered in hospitals of Quetta,” said a Quetta-based doctor. The mortality rate is shocking even in Panjgur, the constituency of Minister for Health Rahamat Saleh Baloch.
Another tragic byproduct of rising extremism is the practice of acid attacks by extremists, with the first reported in 2010, when two sisters in Dalbandin, headquarters of the Chagai district, were targeted. A hitherto unknown group called the Baloch Ghairatmand Group claimed responsibility for the attack. Since then, a number of similar incidents have been reported in Balochistan, involving men on motorcycles throwing acid on women and then fleeing.
Last year, four polio workers, including three women, were target killed in the outskirts of Quetta. That prompted a boycott of the polio campaign, but despite the risks the workers have since returned.
Illiteracy, honor killings, maternal mortality, and acid attacks – clearly, conditions for women in Balochistan are shockingly poor, and they are getting worse. But despite claims of action, there is little evidence that the chief minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch or his all-male cabinet have done anything of significance to address the situation. For now, it appears that Balochistan’s women will continue to suffer.
Balochistan’s Hindus are migrating because of security fears
On December 2, police found an abandoned vehicle at a parking lot in Quetta. It belonged to Dr Manoj Kumar, a noted educationist in the city and a medical officer at a government hospital in the nearby town of Dadhar. He had been abducted. Two months later, he was set free in the Hazarganji suburb of the provincial capital. A source in his family said they let him go after they were paid Rs 14 million.
Hindus in Quetta say it is not an isolated incident. Although security has improved for the minority community since this government took over, they say they live in fear.
“We are soft targets,” a Hindu trader said. “We cannot put up a resistance. We have to pay the ransom.”
Balochistan’s chief minister, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, told reporters last year that law-enforcement agencies in his province had arrested or killed most members of 72 gangs involved in abduction for ransom. Recent newspaper reports suggest security forces have stepped up action against militant groups in Balochistan since the prime minister announced a National Action Plan to combat terrorism.
But a Hindu rights activists says at least 45 Hindu families left their hometown in the Mach district of Balochistan last year because of security fears, and massive migration of Hindus has been reported out of Kalat, Khuzdar and Mastung districts.
Hindus are among the oldest dwellers of Balochistan. “It is not known exactly how and when the Hindus settled in Balochistan, but it is said that before the invasion of Mohammad Bin Qasim in 712, they lived in areas near Karachi, such as Hub, Lasbela, Kalat and Sevi (now known as Sibi),” says Prof Aziz Mohammad Bugti, a renowned author based in Quetta.
“We are soft targets”
Sham Kumar, a Hindu intellectual, says they ruled parts of Balochistan before the Arab invasion. “In those days, Hinduism and Buddhism were dominant in Balochistan and Sindh,” he says.
Two Hindu temples from those times still survive – the Hinglaj Mata temple in Lasbela and the Kali Mata temple in Kalat. “They are reminiscent of the strong influence that Hindus had in Balochistan in those times,” says Prof Bugti.
The historic Kalat city is named after the fabled Hindu ruler Kalat Seva, he says. The Chaman district of Balochistan, which is now part of the Pashtun belt, was likely named after famous Hindu fruit trader Chaman Das. But the town of Hindu Bagh, in the Qilla Saifullah district, was renamed Muslim Bagh.
Hindus have played a prominent role in the Baloch economy over centuries, and were as much a part of the Baloch society as any other community. Inayatullah Baloch says in his book The Problem of Greater Balochistan that during the siege of Kalat in 1839, Finance Minister Dewan Bucha Mull, a Hindu, sacrificed his life to defend Kalat.
“Hindus live in almost all districts of Balochistan, other than the Makran division,” says Dr Mohan Kumar, who belongs to the ruling National Party. They lived in the province after the Partition peacefully and without fear, until at least the 1970s.
A Hindu teacher said some Hindus in Balochistan considered themselves “superior” until the 1980s. “After Gen Ziaul Haq took over the country, things began to change,” he said. “We are insecure now, and we feel that we do not have the support of the local people the way we did in the past.”
A national newspaper reported in 2013 that 13,000 Hindus had migrated out of Dera Bugti since 2006, when the security situation worsened in the area. But a Hindu who belongs to Dera Bugti but is now settled in Quetta does not agree with the figure. “The total number of Hindus in Dera Bugti was not more than 2,000.”
The emigration began after the death of former chief minister Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, said the Hindu teacher, escalating sharply between 2010 and 2014.
In a press conference in October last year, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairwoman Zohra Yusuf had said 300,000 Shias, Zikris, and Hindus had left the province because of security concerns.
Some moved to other parts of the province because they are not ready to leave their homeland. “Many Hindu families have resettled in Mastung,” says Munir Ahmad, a local stringer.
But the community complains the provincial government has done very little to address their fears and stop the migration.
“We live in fear,” says the Hindu teacher. “We feel like strangers in our own land.”
The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta
The Friday Times