There surely will be divergent views to what I am about to write because I am writing about the 2nd March which is celebrated as ‘Baloch Culture Day’ and is celebrated quite enthusiastically by many as is apparent from the social media and news reports. So much so that even the American Consul General in Karachi joins the festivities at Karachi Press Club.
I do not begrudge people who like to be happy and find reasons to celebrate and enjoy; it makes me happy to see people happy in times when happiness is hard to come by as there are so many injustices ensure that we remain sombre and depressed. Happiness is something which should be lavishly spread around and that is exactly what the Baloch national struggle has been striving for in its persistent effort towards achieving Baloch rights.
Our culture is what we are; it is a reflection of our actions because culture is not something external and nor does it exist independent of us. What we stand for, what we oppose and resist, what we believe in and how we conduct ourselves in our daily lives represent not only us but our culture as well. We cannot be judged apart from our culture and neither can our culture be judged apart from us. What we do and how we live represents our culture and if we do not live according to the essence of our culture, we should not blame people for misunderstanding or maligning our culture. We represent our culture with our actions and not with our words and empty platitudes. To be a Baloch you have to live by the values that make you a Baloch. Our values and what we stand for makes us Baloch if clothes, Paag and beards made us Baloch then the ride would have been easy and we would be welcomed, it is being a Baloch by conduct that frightens the enemy and he tries to annihilate us.
Culture isn’t just pieces of clothing it is the sum total of what we are and that means our history, our values, our struggles, our heroes, our sacrifices and our battles for our rights. Do we fulfill these when we celebrate the culture like it is done today?
The question is does the way Baloch Culture Day is observed in any way helps towards achieving an everlasting happiness in freedom or is it just a day to enjoy and then get back to that dull, depressing and disheartening daily routine; a placebo of little intrinsic value or purpose.
A question that needs to be answered honestly by all those who find it fit to observe the Baloch Culture day as a festivity is that in the desperate and traumatic situation that the Baloch nation is today does it behoove us to celebrate and be festive. I need to add that being proud of our identity is essential and we should be proud but that doesn't mean that while striving to show our pride to world we forget the trauma that the Baloch nation is undergoing and in process forsake the blood and countless sacrifices which have given us the right to be proud of our identity.
In social and political processes everything, including Culture Days, are examined and evaluated by the benefits or disadvantages these hold for the people living in a specific set of circumstances. Because we are speaking of the Baloch Culture Day let us see the situation that the Baloch are in today.
Baloch face the most critical challenges and threats to their identity, their rights, their culture, their life and their history as never before in the millenniums that they have struggled and survived. Everything they identify with is under threat more so their land and with it not only their way of life but even their lives. Their resources are being taken over in name of mega-projects, military and naval bases are being imposed to protect and save those mega-projects. They are being disenfranchised and dispossessed politically, socially and economically in name of religion which forces them to accept being Pakistanis because they are Muslims instead of Baloch. An insidious, deliberate, measured and gradual process has systematically been operative since the 27th March 1948 to turn them into a powerless minority in Balochistan which is their motherland. This is done in two ways; one by bringing in people from other places and secondly by the slow burning genocide which has been going on since decades.
This being the ground reality in Balochistan today let us see if the culture day is anyway being of any help in relieving or ameliorating the dire straits that Baloch find themselves in. As far as promotion of dresses, paag (turban) and drees (dance) is concerned there is high visibility but the joviality and festivity involved it gives an impression that the Baloch nation faces no problems and all is well while the reality is just the opposite. The merriment and revelry associated with the culture day sends the wrong message not only to the world but to the Baloch people as well. The culture is not just pieces of apparel or a few steps of dance; the culture or the celebration of it has to convey what the nation stands for in the historical and political aspects of its life and how it is tackling the dire threats to its very existence.
The joyousness and gleefulness which naturally accompanies these so called culture days obscures the reality of the situation. The political books and book fairs of political literature are curbed by the state while these culture days are promoted and encouraged because these help the state by making the people to unwittingly take the bait thus helping the state agenda of making people oblivious to the curse of slavery and domination which is an everyday reality for Baloch. The culture day, the way it is celebrated here, is simply another tool of state to strengthen its iron grip on the land and resources of Baloch nation. We will have to decide which side of the fence we are on; are with those who want to push us into oblivion or are we those who fight for our future, the ball is in your court.
Advocating spurious cultural symbols helps exploiters distract people from the real threats to their identity and rights. Can a Paag, beard or a dress make us a Baloch? I think not. What makes us Baloch is what we do and not how we look. Some years after return from Afghanistan I had shaved my beard; some people though not directly had expressed disappointment. I had told them that my Balochiyat was not because of the beard I sported but because of what I did and stood for in my life. I have seen Baloch with huge Paags and long beards who are die hard Pakistanis and clean shaven and bareheaded Baloch who have sacrificed their lives and everything for Balochistan. It is easy to be a Baloch by appearance than by conduct and it is here that the culture day acts like a dangerous placebo which lulls our senses and makes us feel that if we wear the right clothing on the 2nd March we have done our duty to our nation.
Looking like a Baloch may be expensive in terms of money but being a Baloch by conduct comes at a price which not many of us are ready to pay and therefore settle for culture days. The culture day the way it is observed now has state endorsement as it serves their purpose; try making it a ‘Baloch Culture day and Rights day’ and see if you are allowed to hold events in universities and press clubs. Any act of Baloch which smacks of defiance and resistance to state oppression and you will see the strong arm of state pouncing of those who dare to adopt such a program.
The fervor with which the cultural day is observed outside Balochistan is in contrast to the way it is subdued in Balochistan where it is promoted by those who repress the Baloch all year round. A picture they say is worth a thousand words but some pictures are worth a billion or more. A picture of Baloch Culture Day procession in Balochistan on the web says it all and exposes the duplicity, deceitfulness and the hypocrisy of those who are anxious to show that all celebration is spontaneous. Why should a procession celebrating Baloch Culture Day need the protection and patronage of the Frontier Corps?
The Baloch Culture Day has been taken hostage by the state this not to say there aren't many who do it spontaneously and it is for them that I have written these lines so that they could reassess as to who is being helped by the way and the spirit in which Baloch Culture Day is being celebrated today.
Do we want to end up like the Native American on reservations along the different corridors that will naturally follow the CPEC flaunting the tepees, headdresses, moccasins etc with no rights over what belongs to us and should be ours? If not then do not only observe a culture day which is nothing more than pieces of clothing observe a culture day of rights which honour the memory of the bravery and steadfastness of the likes of Nawab Nauroz Khan, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Sher Mohammad Marri, Mir Laung Khan, Ali Sher Kurd, Balach Marri, Saba Dashtyari, Reza Jehangir, Dr. Mannan, Nawab Akbar Bugti, Majeed Langave and family, Hameed Baloch, Jalil Rekei, Sana Sangat, Comrade Qamber, Mehrab Khan (1839), Atta Shad, Gul Khan Naseer, and countless others who sacrificed themselves or spent their lives for Baloch rights. Observe a culture day that honours the thousands like Zakir Majeed, Ali Khan Marri, Kabeer Baloch, Zahid Baloch, Dr. Deen Mohammad, Mohammad Ramzan who remain in custody of Pakistan in centres worse than Guantanamo and Abu Gharaib Prison.
A Culture day that doesn’t relate to resistance and the struggle of the nation and doesn’t help it in its battle against oppression is a charade, a farce aimed at diverting the peoples’ mind from the real threats towards something inconsequent, irrelevant and contemptible. Unless the tone and tenor of the ‘Baloch Culture Day’ changes and it doesn’t become an integral part of the Baloch struggle for their rights and dignified life they strive for it will remain what it is; just another ploy to fool the people into believing that they have a right over their lives and count among the free people. In my view the way the culture day is it observed will remain a state sponsored, television channel promoted charade which aims at strengthening and prolonging the cultural, political, economic and social oppression that has been going on since 27th March 1948. The decision is eventually yours if you want be a Baloch who is clothed as a Baloch or a Baloch who cares for the future of Baloch nation and struggles for the rights of his nation.
The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org