• Sunday 17th January 2021

Welcome To The War On “Vulgar, Western Education” In Balochistan By Hina Baloch

Rabia spoke about her hometown of Turbat and the culture and life of the people of Balochistan. Sixteen-year old Rabia is an exchange student in the US. In just one year, Rabia has made a mark for herself and her country; she has been on the honour roll twice already.

Welcome to the war on “vulgar, western education”

in Balochistan By Hina Baloch

Wearing her traditional Balochi dress, Rabia stood tall with great poise and confidence, in a hall filled with teachers and students, at a local high school in Richmond, Virginia.

This was her twelfth presentation in one week and, by now, she was visibly confident in speaking to a foreign audience in her Balochi-accented English.

Rabia spoke about her hometown of Turbat and the culture and life of the people of Balochistan. Sixteen-year old Rabia is an exchange student in the US. In just one year, Rabia has made a mark for herself and her country; she has been on the honour roll twice already.

Zeenat is a 19 year old female student. After returning from a one-year high school exchange program in the US, she is now working towards bringing change in the lives of young girls like her in her hometown of Gwadar, Balochistan.

An excellent writer, who blogs regularly, Zeenat dreams of becoming a lawyer. In addition to working towards her undergraduate degree, Zeenat is also helping the women in her community learn the English language and gain some basic computer skills.

Parents, students and residents of Panjgur protest against threats to schools. — Photo by author.

Both, Rabia and Zeenat, can credit their achievements to their early schooling experience in Makran.

While the government wholly ignored the education sector, there were many young, often self-driven and educated, individuals from the region that moved forward to fill-in the gap.

The youth of the area has remained actively involved in community service and, most impressively, established an indigenous network of private schools and English language centers.

Although these schools are run on nominal fees, they provide the youth with their only life-changing opportunity to acquire basic education, computer and modern language skills.

Panjgur, a district of Makran bordering Iran, is home to beautiful palm trees and is an exporter of the largest variety of dates found in the region. Panjgur has a reasonably large network of small private schools imparting education to girls and boys.

The entire private education network is run by local teachers and administrators. The schools generally cater to both girls and boys, although in some schools the genders are taught separately in two shifts.

With the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa affronted by militant attacks on girl’s education facilities, Balochistan, until now, had been spared the senseless violence that has engulfed educational facilities in the north.

Balochistan’s education-based hardships have traditionally been confined to a lack of government support, access and quality issues.

While the region of Panjgur has remained at the center of the Baloch nationalist insurgency and serves as the battleground for military offensives, girls’ education system and allied facilities have never been targeted by any group.

Tragically, it seems, all of that is about to change forever.

Terror in a letter

Recently, all the private schools of Panjgur received a letter from a previously unheard extremist group called Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan.

The letter, addressed to the owners and administrators of all private schools, accuses them of corrupting the minds of young girls by exposing them to a ‘western education’.

It goes on to state that ‘all private schools must immediately disallow girls from seeking an education regardless of them being at a co-education or an all-girls facility.’

It also includes a message for van and taxi drivers in the area, ‘warning them of dire consequences if they continue to transport girls to schools’.

The note goes onto warn parents as well. It asks them to keep their daughters away from English language centers and schools.

Not surprisingly, their threat warns that ‘the mujahedeen of Al-Furqan are ready to brace martyrdom to stop the spread of vulgar, western, education in Balochistan’.

The letter ends with a list featuring names of all prominent owners of private schools in Panjgur.

To assert their writ and spread fear, the group carried an attack on a school immediately after sending out the letters.

Schools in Panjgur remained closed for several days. Soon after their reopening, unidentified gunmen set a school van, transporting female students and teachers, on fire on 14 May 2014.

Although there were no major casualties, the gunmen, belonging to this newly claimed extremist group, ensured the owner of the private school received their message loud and clear.

The owner in this instance was driving the van at the time of the attack. According to eye witnesses, to spread fear and panic, the gunmen fired multiple gunshots in the air – just meters away from a nearby stationed Frontiers Corps (FC) convoy that simply chose to ignore the proceedings.

Interestingly enough, the entire Makran region, particularly Panjgur, is a heavily guarded and militarily-fortified area. Convoys and check-posts of the FC can be seen placed at all district entry and exit points and on every major road and intersection across the locality.

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