Silence Is Not Always Golden Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Silence of an oppressed and tyrannised people is an unpardonable crime because ‘powerlessness and silence go together’

During the 1970s struggle in Balochistan, facilities were non-existent and all communication was by word of mouth or written messages. Written messages, being incriminating, were avoided as far as possible, as anyone found with such a missive was a condemned person

“A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together” – Margaret Atwood.

Silence of an oppressed and tyrannised people is an unpardonable crime because ‘powerlessness and silence go together’ and those who remain silent are doomed to eternal slavery. When the oppressed remain silent, it only encourages the oppressors to oppress more harshly because their silence results in the world remaining unaware of their plight. The oppressed who choose to remain silent help the oppressor to achieve his foul aims. Speaking up and speaking up intelligently and forcefully is the bounden duty of oppressed people.

In today’s world, political ‘springs’, blessed with the facility of social media networks and the communications revolution, flourish. The conditions for those who struggled in the 1970s were very disadvantageous because of primitive communications; couriers were the main means and that was very risky and unreliable. The government, with a monopoly over the means of communication, successfully blacked out all its atrocities and information about the struggle. This unfair advantage resulted in serious disadvantage for those struggling and made them extremely vulnerable to annihilation due to the world’s ignorance of their plight, struggle, and objectives.

Today, informing and learning about policies, plans and situations are literally at dissenters’ fingertips. This has made mobilising and organising easier than it ever was. Social media networks are ideal for propagating viewpoints and rebutting enemy propaganda. The communications revolution has afforded unlimited opportunities to people to express themselves, retrieve lost rights and bid adieu to powerlessness.

The internet, satellite phones and extended cellular networks afford people the opportunity to communicate freely within organisations and with the world at large. This blessing is however, a double-edged sword; it has helped project the Baloch cause worldwide but a lot of Baloch activists have been apprehended due to their use of cell phones and computers as these can be tracked.

During the 1970s struggle in Balochistan, these facilities were non-existent and all communication was by word of mouth or written messages. Written messages, being incriminating, were avoided as far as possible, as anyone found with such a missive was a condemned person. One has to salute the courage of those who volunteered to carry these messages in spite of inherent dangers. A few Marri courier friends – Ali Dost Durkani, Shafi Mohammad Badani, Bahar Lalwani among them – were picked up by the army and never heard of again.

These heroes need to be remembered as martyrs of the first order as their courage kept the movement a step ahead of the huge army operations that were conducted then in Balochistan in general and the Marri area in particular. Their courage is unique and different from that shown in battle because this requires cold, calculated and sustained courage.

Propagating news of encounters and presenting the policies to the people was equally dangerous and hazardous. The monthly Jabal was the official paper of the Balochistan People’s Liberation Front (BPLF) and it is to the credit of three dedicated non-Baloch friends who were instrumental in bringing out the cyclostyled copies of Jabal regularly. Naturally, that task, like that of the couriers, carried similar risks and required not only similar courage but also additional organisational skills to successfully print and distribute it.

Not many today know about cyclostyling because they live in the age of printers and photocopiers. Then, matter was written on the cyclostyling stencil with a steel pen or typewriter, making sure that the white waxy material was removed for the ink to seep on to the printing paper. Then it was fitted on a cyclostyling machine and rotated so that the imprints were left on the paper. This had to be done for each page separately and required utmost patience and diligence.

I too helped with the printing of Jabal in a small way while living underground in Karachi in the second quarter of 1977; it was limited to some translations, confirming dates and places of actions. Two young Baloch students of mine burnt print rejects and cyclostyle papers to destroy evidence. These were burnt in the toilet of the apartment so that the ashes could be flushed and they had to make sure not much smoke was emitted and the commode remained undamaged.

Surreptitiously distributing copies of Jabal was even more perilous. A copy of Jabal found on a person was like a signed death warrant. Sadly, not many copies of Jabal exist today because most were destroyed after being read. They would have made interesting reading today.

Not many people know that in the summer of 1975, three brave French activists led by Jean-Paul Viennot of Le Monde, like the journalists in Homs today, risked their lives to report about the Baloch struggle. They successfully made it to the Marri area but unfortunately, Viennot contracted cerebral malaria and died. He was interred there and the others had to return without accomplishing what they had come for. Their group, ‘Solidarity with the Baloch’, regularly sent medicines to our Baloch refugee camps in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani state is choking the available sources, has already banned Baloch websites, and will censor the internet to deprive people of information and education now available. Helpful as the social media networks are, they have pitfalls too. Deception with fake IDs is rampant and deceivers can say whatever they want without fear of being caught by those deceived. The state however has the wherewithal to trace out the IP and the person. Ironically, an agent provocateur will always be the most radical and outspoken one to lure genuine activists to blurt out their feelings and plans. This holds true for organisations as well, where planted persons are extremely demagogic with inflammatory ideals.

I recounted the 1970s experience so that all Baloch writers, activists, social media network users and their supporters realise that it is essential to avail the opportunities provided by the media revolution today. It is important for informing, educating the Baloch people, public in general, and the world at large of the grave situation in Balochistan and the plight and goals of the Baloch.

Benjamin Franklin rightly said, “As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.” We should remember that both idle silence and idle words would undo all our past sacrifices. It is our responsibility to speak up and speak up cogently and bravely because idle silence and petty bickering will doom us to eternal suppression.

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 [email protected]

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