General Asim Munir on his visit to Washington spoke about everything under the sun but about the women leading a protest march from Turbat to Islamabad. This was something he could not have spoken about. He was very keen to score points over Gaza and Kashmir but not Balochistan, his country’s biggest province boiling up in quiet anger.
Nor did anyone ask him who this Mahrang Baloch is, this soft spoken, frail woman who is the voice of this gathering storm of public anguish and anger over the disappearances of their sons and fathers. And why would she be brutally pushed into a police man and arrested for taking the march to Islamabad?
Mahrang Baloch is a doctor by profession and a student activist by compulsion. Her father was abducted by security forces in 2009 on his way to hospital. Mahrang was 16 then. She didn’t know whether she would ever see her father. She went out, to the streets, leaving aside all norms of honour, and began her protest to release her father, Ghaffar Baloch.. It was how she became part of the Baloch protest movement which never seems to die despite brutal and inhuman clampdown by the army and other security forces.
Mahrang recalled the day before her father’s disappearance. Her father spent the evening talking about Balochistan, its miseries, the fight and the losses. “It has been a decade, but I still remember the colour of the clothes he was wearing that night. We barely slept because we had so many things to talk about. I had a feeling that something amiss was about to happen. He passed by me with a sad smile as I stood at the door and watched him leave.” remembered Mahrang Baloch.
The tortured body of Ghaffar Baloch’s body was found in July 2011. Mehrang Baloch was shell shocked. “ I used to think that I failed to bring my father back from the dungeons. Every day from college to home I see children holding their father’s hand and during such moments I dearly miss my beloved father“, she recalled in a media interview.
The years after her father’s death, Mehrang quietly began visiting the missing persons’ camp several times. She wanted others not to feel the same agony she had to go through. Then in December 2017, her brother was abducted. He was freed after three months torture in a dungeon, secret cells set up by the army and security forces across Balochistan where hundreds and thousands of men were detained without any charges, tortured and many left to die.
Mehrang took to the movement without any hesitation. In 2020, she led a group of students protesting the proposed removal of the quota system at Bolan Medical College, which reserves spots for medical students coming from remote areas of the province. The movement compelled the authorities to cancel the policy change.
She often feels disheartened by the absence of public support for the cause or against the brutality of the state forces against own citizens. She calls herself a nationalist–“ I fight for the rights of the people of Balochistan; the land I belong to.” In a media interview, she quoted a line from Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of The Earth: “For a colonised people, the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.” This is not the first time Mehrang Baloch has been jailed. First time she was thrown into a prison, she was 13. That was when her father was locked up in 2006. When her uncle came to bail her out, she refused to be free, saying that she will only take bail when her father too is freed. She told a journalist recently, ““I believe jail is not something new. It has more freedom, as I can read and spend time with myself in the prison,” she chuckles. “They cannot break me by imprisoning me. They would liberate me.”