Mahrang Baloch is a MBBS final year student at the Bolan Medical College (BMC), the dental college at the Bolan University of Medical and Health Sciences (BUMHS), Quetta, the first and only medical university in Balochistan. As new acts are passed, merit quotas changed, scholarships denied and future doctors admitted to hospitals after days of hunger strikes, Mahrang has also become the face of Baloch students who have been facing massive discrimination and ever-increasing human rights violations. Her day starts and ends with posting developments on social media highlighting the plight of Baloch students as neither the university administration nor the provincial government is bothered to address the long-pending issues.
These students still managed to reach college. A majority of the Baloch next generation in Pakistan may however be not that lucky. Unlike the seniors who even took out a rally demanding availability of internet connectivity for online classes during the pandemic, they are more worried about the unavailability of schools. Everyone has a right to education but not all are fortunate enough to go to a school in Balochistan. Either they don’t have schools or, if they are lucky enough to have a building, the teachers go missing soon. Education still remains a privilege in Pakistan, more so in Balochistan.
A report ’25 million broken promises: the crisis of Pakistan’s out-of-school children’ published by Alif Ailaan, a non-profit organization working in the field of education in Pakistan since 2013, had revealed that 25.02 million Pakistani children between the 5-16 age group are deprived of their right to education. Among children of primary school-going age, almost one in every five is not in school and this proportion increases at higher levels of education.
Imagine a country where millions of students haven’t seen the inside of a classroom yet.
Two years ago, a Unicef report had mentioned how in Balochistan – the largest province of Pakistan – around 60-70 per cent children in the primary and secondary age group, more girls than boys, are reported to be out of school. A majority of government schools lack even the basic facilities such as clean running water, bathrooms and boundary walls.
Many children who enter school in Pakistan are exposed to a classroom environment that is not conducive to learning, with poor facilities, absent or incompetent teachers and the use of corporal punishment. There is no doubt that all of these factors contribute to children dropping out of school, the report had mentioned further.
“In Balochistan, on average, there is a primary school after every 30 kilometres, a middle school after every 260 kilometres, and a high school after every 360 kilometres. Around 80.50 per cent of school buildings in Balochistan are in poor shape. Cracks are visible in some of the buildings. Others schools do not even have a building,” Ali Jan Maqsood, a student at University Law College, Quetta, wrote in the News International.
@jam_kamal:-Dr Tariq Baloch, who has been on hunger strike for three consecutive days, has been shifted to ICU due to ill health.Can someone please help these #real freedom fighters.#BMC #Balochistan #BalochistanIsNotPakistan pic.twitter.com/bWj84cXcVj
— Naved Baloch (@NavedBaloch2) September 7, 2020
The ‘enforced disappearances’ and ‘extrajudicial arrests’ of teachers and students are an everyday affair now. Almost every Baloch who raises a voice to wake the unresponsive government is labeled a traitor and silenced. Many like Hayat Baloch, a student of Karachi University who came home during the pandemic, are horrifically murdered in front of the family by the Pakistani forces for no apparent reason too.
With the situation taking a turn for the worse, the country’s former president, Asif Ali Zardari, who is also the co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, has warned of testing times ahead for Balochistan. “The state needs to be more careful in Balochistan. If another Akbar Bugti-like incident happens, it will be difficult to handle the situation,” Zardari said recently.
Is the Pakistani state even worried about the Balochs?