What would you do if your brother was abducted?

Published: March 5, 2014

The march began in October and has continued through the coldest time of the year, amidst rains and fog. PHOTO: AFP

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?)

Picture provided by the author. Source: AP

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.

Ammara Ahmad

Ammara Ahmad

The editor of Viewpoint Online. She enjoys blogging and tweets @ammarawrites (twitter.com/ammarawrites)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Feroz

    If the issue is about Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar people would be out protesting on the streets alongside the Mullahs. Thousands of Baluch going missing does not raise any moral issues for those same people.Recommend

  • Salim Hasnani

    This is a time of great difficulties for Rohingya and Chinese Muslims. Instead of distracting people with our own cooked up stories of persecution, Pakistanis need to reach out to Muslims around the world and help them. All our talk of brotherhood should not be in name only.Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    Being a woman I would not venture out like you have done . I don’t know whether you were accompanied by your Father & Mother or brother. In Islam there are limitations for a women. You could leave it to your menfolk to protest , walk or go to Court. The best thing to do is to pray to Allah for his deliverance. He alone is enough. .Recommend

  • javed qamer

    I agree with the article who would like a family member to disappear?

    The toll on the family is tremendous with the financial hardship comes
    mental torture. Whether the loved one is
    alive or being tortured who to turn to etc.

    Please also look on the other side of the coin. Yes the husband may have been loving and took care of his wife. But why was he abducted. Was it because he was involved in tableeghi jamaat and fostering hatred of minorities. Was he in some way involved with hate mongering madrassas? These madrassas by
    the way cause havoc amongst Pakistani citizens.
    They nurture Suicide bombers who cause many deaths and untold miseries
    on the survivors. Perhaps the surviving wife would also be lamenting as to what her husband did to die in a suicide attack.

    We sympathize with the victims of abductions perhaps some light can be shed on the extra curricular activities of the missing people..
    No security agency can kidnap honest law abiding citizens unless there is some

    Syed QamerRecommend

  • Ali

    Yes..but that is not the real issue. The real issue is that people who protest against the oppression of Baluchs would not protest against the oppression of Rohingya Muslims and vice versa….we all have our own sense of injustice and we tie it with our own cultural, religious, ethnic preferences….United we stand…divided we fallRecommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    Propaganda by self hating Pakistani’s and the India appeasement crowd.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    “Was it because he was involved in tableeghi jamaat and fostering hatred of minorities. Was he in some way involved with hate mongering madrassas? These madrassas by the way cause havoc amongst Pakistani citizens”

    we are talking about Balochistan not the taliban… maybe he was abducted because he was asking for the rights of baloch or maybe greater provincial autonomy…get your facts right… its because of people like you this nation is still in such deep ****……..

    @ET .. you might not post this comment because of the tone of my commentRecommend

  • Anwaar

    “I don’t know whether you were accompanied by your Father & Mother or brother. In Islam there are limitations for a women”

    how about the war Ayesha (R.A) led ? was she wrong in doing so ?….Recommend

  • Truth

    Missing Balochs are Indian RAW feed terrorist and must met the Fate they have Now. Not to declare dead or alive….. People Like you have no voice in Pakistan. AM happy for that.Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    HA! HA1 HA1 What a comparison.The Mother of all Mother’s Hazrat Ayesha (RA) was up in arms surrounded by the trusted follower’s of the Prophet SAW (Sahabi’s) for a cause which was for Allah & Allah alone. Mind you she was in her late year’s and her conduct was above board. Even Allah SWT came to her rescue when in early year’s while travelling she was left behind & picked by a follower & the Munafiqueen spread rumors about her.. So please think before you bring into discussion the companion’s & the Noble wives of the Prophet SAW(PBUH) into a discussion. They have no parallel.Recommend

  • Malaika Harris

    Um, “Being a woman?” You’re named Imtiaz Alam, and it appears you have a beard.Recommend

  • Malaika Harris

    There is absolutely nothing that could ever justify the kill and dump operations taking place in Balochistan. I’m sure that ten years from now, the ones that walked with the activists would be on the right side of history.Recommend

  • Reader

    I feel shattered that there are women in our society who think their fellow women and themselves shouldn’t even raise their voice in protest. tragic.Recommend

  • Reader

    now see this is what I don’t get, women are told to live their lives like Bibi Ayesha(R.A) and Bibi Fatima(R.A) but when it comes to these kinds of issues people like you shut us up by saying things like “there cannot be a comparison”…Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    You seem to have run out of words.Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    When and for how many years have you lived in Balochistan to pass Judgement.Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    I am not giving any shut bid call, just trying to say that you can emulate them with respect to the Quran & Sunnah. Life of Piety & Modesty. One personal example cannot be the corner stone of one’s criteria. The Prophet SAW (PBUH) had 11 wives but the Hadith he gave us is not to have more than four wives at a time.Recommend