What would you do if your brother was abducted?
In the words of Imam Baksh Nasikh,
“Teri ankhein tuo sukhan go hain magar kaun sune,
Kyun kar awaaz karein mardam-e-beemar buland?”
(“Your eyes tell us everything, but who will listen,
Why would a weak nation raise its voice?”)
This image of Farzana Majeed is iconic – a young woman in a blue shawl and red cap, standing with a portrait of her missing brother after walking 2,000 kilometres to find him. Farzana holds a double Masters and is the general secretary of the Voice for Baloch Missing Person’s March, members of which walked across Pakistan to give a human face to the issue of state abductions in Balochistan.
The march began in October and has continued through the coldest time of the year, amidst rains and fog. There were threats, bullets and dangerous roads. And Farzana’s eyes tell the story of her struggle, sleeping in alien lands and waking up to an ambiguous present and future, month after month.
In our folklore, we have women like the Rani of Jhansi who led a rebellion against the British and thus, became a symbol of courage like Joan of Arc. Chaand Bibi defied the great and at times autocratic, Mughal emperor Akbar. And then there is Rosa Parks, the black woman who led the civil rights movement in the United States after being removed from a bus because of her race.
I don’t see how Farzana is any different.
She comes from a culture where women are protected and seldom go out alone. Yet, she marched on the Grand Trunk (GT) road with an old man, children and other women her age.
I wouldn’t be surprised if she was exasperated, disillusioned, angry or even depressed. Who would like it if their brother was abducted and potentially killed by the state? But then, who would actually get out of the house and demand his release? The sheer apathy in our culture for such a woman who is simply trying to seek justice, is striking. Despite all the mythological importance given to ‘respect of women’ and their honour, there is actually little concession given when a woman asks for something ‘they’ are unwilling to give her.
Apparently people are willing to accept outstanding deeds only when they are written in a history book. And this march is a testimony to this fact.
Punjab has tales of heroines like Heer, Sassi and Sohni – passionate women, who defied all odds for their love with immense courage but paid the price. Ironically, Punjab was the place where these young superwomen got the most lukewarm response and were greeted with firing, abuse and threats. Nobody can possibly understand the human cost of a conflict, the toll it takes on one’s personal life and how it leaves one’s family hollow forever.
Farzana is in her twenties. What will happen if she and the other girls with her fail to find a trace of their brothers? Some of these girls are still teenagers. I don’t even want to imagine the grief they will be forced to live with and the disillusionment which will follow this failure.
When my brother was born, we were surprised because the ultrasound report had said that it might be a girl. I was sleeping and my father woke me up to break the exciting news. Born in a hospital nearby, my brother was a tiny creature with a big nose and an inflamed wound on his hand caused by an injection. My mother directed me to move him away from the fan to an empty bed. I don’t know what I would do if he was abducted by the state.
And I am surprised why people don’t ask themselves this question.
It seems unlikely that an outsider can have any real perspective and that makes writing a piece like this immensely puzzling. You know it is painful but not exactly how much. And there is a mix of feelings, for example last year, Farzana mentioned that she had her own life to live and here she is spending every day trying to prevent her brother from getting killed.
Pakistanis often mourn the human adversity that took place in the partition of India. The Indian state’s crackdown on Kashmir is well known on this side of the border. There is a Kashmir in the south of Pakistan and there is a 1971 just waiting to happen again.
The anxiety in Farzana’s eyes is evidence of it.
Farzana is standing in front of a shop with its shutter closed. I hope this isn’t symbolic of the Pakistani state.
I hope they will lift the shutter and humanity will walk out.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.