KARACHI: Thousands gathered at the Arts Lobby, University of Karachi, to listen to the representatives of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) who were to speak as panellists at a seminar organised by the Teachers Against War and Oppression (KU).
The seminar turned into a public meeting as the KU Administration refused access to the Arts Auditorium that was to serve as the venue of the seminar. Dr Riaz Ahmed of the Teachers Against War and Oppression guided the students to the Arts Lobby that ended up hosting hundreds of student, civil society representatives and media persons who managed to overcome barriers by the university security and made their way to the Lobby in sweltering heat.
The seminar titled “Baloch Missing Persons and the Role of the State and Society” was aimed at paying tribute to free speech activist and Director T2F Sabeen Mahmud, who was killed on 24 April minutes after T2F hosted a meeting with the VBMP in Karachi.
The event started with students and participants lighting candles to commemorate Sabeen and the missing persons in Balochistan. Dr Riaz condemned the University Admin for denying permission to hold the seminar at the Arts Auditorium. He pointed out that dozens of students from other universities, civil society members and media persons have been stopped at the main gate to prevent them from attending today’s meeting. He said that universities, world over, provide forums for free speech and expression. By refusing permission for the seminar, the University of Karachi is denying a fundamental right to its students and the faculty.
Mama Qadeer, head of VBMP, HR Activist and Columnist Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, and Farzana Baloch, General Secretary VBMP addressed the meeting where majority students sat on the floor and other stood for two hours as the speakers expressed their views.
Mama Qadeer shared history of the Baloch struggle and emphasized that state oppression is only giving way to further confrontation and resentment among the local population. He referred to the recent statements by the political government and the military leadership accusing the Baloch struggle to be supported by international forces and RAW. He said all these allegations are being levelled without the presentation of any evidence. He expressed his disagreement with the current development direction being pursued in Balochistan which, he said, was neither inclusive and nor had representation of the local Baloch people. He protested against the encouragement and support to the extremist forces being provided by the state. “They are now replacing the peaceful and secular Baloch community.”
Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur shared that he himself was a student of Journalism Department, Karachi University in 1969-70. He said that even one missing person is a question mark on the credibility and function of the state. He further added that people cannot be expected to raise slogans for Pakistan if their loved ones will be abducted or brutally killed.
Farzana Baloch said that VBMP is the first formal medium that has been raising voice of those who have been kidnapped and disappeared by Pakistani forces. Most of the members of the VBMP have personal experience of their loved ones being disappeared or killed.
Our aim is to speak for the illegally detained Baloch who have no access to a lawyer and who are deprived of their basic human rights. She spoke of the 106 days walk of VBMP who travelled from Quetta to Islamabad to create awareness about the missing persons issue last year. She said that unless practical and meaningful steps are taken, the policy of abduction and killing is likely to continue.
Naveen Haider presented a vote of thanks in the end. She said that despite obstacles, the organizers and the participants managed to get their message across. The participants then moved to famous Admin Section of the University and protested against the hurdles created by the University Administration to block the seminar.
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