Author: Jamal Baloch
How do I write this differently? To describe the same pain, the same suffering and the same wait differently every 28th of June is difficult. Imagine what living with this pain, day and night, for 11 years would feel like?
Today marks the 11th anniversary of Dr Deen Mohammad Baloch’s disappearance. He is one of those lucky missing persons whose family, especially whose daughters, embarked upon the journey of finding him. Sammi Baloch and Mehlab Baloch realized at a very young age that waiting for him at home and suffering silently is not an option. Last year, when we were campaigning for Dr Deen Mohammad’s recovery, I told Mehlab that “this time, we will make as many people join the campaign as possible”. “no one will come”, she replied. I tried to convince her that people do care but she told me, “it’s been 10 years and people haven’t cared. Their eyes are open and they can see our suffering. There’s no need to explain anything to anyone because this society and its people are dead”. I had nothing to reply.
If someone were to translate someone else’s pain, it will always be a bad translation; only the person suffering can express their pain accurately. While I might not be able to translate Mehlab or Sammi’s pain adequately, I know what this wait feels like because nothing is so common in Balochistan as waiting for a missing person. I cannot give a precise number of how many we are waiting for; no one can. No one knows how many of them are never coming back and how many will hopefully be back one day. But what I know is that it is the story of every house in Balochistan; even though not every house is brave enough to go out in search of their missing persons.
The term “missing persons” bothers me a lot. It has taken away the individuality of those who once were full individuals; each with their own stories, flaws, dreams, hopes and fears. They now have become numbers that just add up to the count of the “missing persons”, or have become dates that remind us of when this agonizing wait had started. I know none of us likes using this term, especially for their loved ones. Which child would want to call their father “a missing person” instead of “abba”? Mehlab and Sammi must be desperately waiting for the day when they will be holding their father’s hand instead of his picture, and calling him “abba” instead of reciting “28th June, 2009 from Ornach Hospital while on duty”.
I wonder how many times a day they see their father’s picture, or have they seen it enough to remember his every hair and every line on his face? Did they have enough memories of him to survive 11 years without him? Have they learned to live without him? or is it the hope that he will return that keeps them going? Beside their father’s return, do they have other dreams? I wonder what stories they will tell their father when he returns. I hope they have things to tell him other than how much they have suffered, the long marches and the hunger strikes they’ve participated in, and the protests in front of Quetta, Karachi and Islamabad press clubs.
Dr Deen Mohammad is someone who has always prioritized his people over everything. He will be disappointed to know that his daughters were left to wander from a camp to camp, a protest to protest. He will be disappointed to know that his people have let his little Mehlab down. He would never want his daughters to feel helpless. I wonder how many times in these 11 years Mehlab and Sammi have felt helpless. They say they have done everything they can to bring their father back but still failed.
It’s not only their father’s disappearance that is suffocating them but also the silence of their people. It is the carelessness, or perhaps the cowardice, of their people that is suffocating them. Think what Mehlab and Sammi would expect from the people who couldn’t bring their father back even after 11 years of endless misery; nothing. Still, despite the pain of their father’s disappearance that suffocates them every moment, despite the helplessness they feel after knocking every door for help, they are uncompromising. Their determination says that their father will be back one day, but do you know what this silence has done? It has turned our beautiful land to a site of death, disappearances and disappointment. Thus, Mehlab was not wrong when she said, “this society and its people are dead”.