Sunday, March 10, 2013

The State of Education in Balochistan (2) The Early Years (A BHRC Anaysis)

In August 1947, Pakistan inherited from the British colonialists the so-called "British Balochistan"and after 7 months, with the tacit approval of the British government, they forcibly occupied the rest of Balochistan, i.e., the State of Kalat as it was formally known at the time. Pakistan not only inherited the land from the British but it also inherited their colonial mindset. The Pakistani leaders regarded themselves as the "rightful" beneficiaries of the British left-overs and the true heirs of their colonial heritage. They saw it fit to continue the colonial policies of the former rulers in every sphere of life, be it political, economic, social or cultural. They almost overnight transformed themselves into the new "gora saahibs", mimicking grotesquely the British in their speech, behavior and attitudes. Because they were the new "rightful" occupiers they loved the status quo. They did not want to change anything at all unless it suited their interests.
The Quetta College
As in all walks of life they most religiously maintained the status quo in education as well. When they occupied our land they inherited one single college which was located in Quetta. It was a non-degree intermediate college. They lost no time in promoting the college to degree level just to accommodate the children of the bureaucrats and the army officers stationed at the Quetta cantonment. This was the only change they brought about until well into the middle of 1960s. Despite popular demand for more colleges, it remained the only college in the whole of Balochistan. The rulers did not want the Baloch to benefit from more schools and colleges. If they had their own way they would rather have closed all schools in Balochistan. Going back to the subject of the Quetta college, it was much easier in the early years for Baloch students to get admitted in colleges as far away as in Karachi and Lahore than the one in their own country. But, apart from the very rich the overwhelming majority of students could't even afford to go to Quetta let alone to Karachi or Lahore. They could only dream of it. Besides, there were many other reasons as to why the ordinary Baloch students were not able to get admission at the Quetta college. The list is indeed very long but here are some of the main reasons:
Institutional Racism and Discrimination
1.  Baloch students were discriminated against openly and brazenly.
2.  Ordinary students could only afford to register at the college if they received a government scholarship without which it  was absolutely inconceivable to live and study in Quetta.
3.  Almost all scholarships were reserved, although unofficially, for the children and relatives of bureaucrats and army officers,   overwhelming majority of whom came from Panjab. If there were still some scholarships left they would, without any qualm, be  allocated to the children of the friends of the Panjabi officials.   Just to show their "generosity" one or two scholarships would be given to those Baloch students whose parents were close to the  ruling clique. When students and their parents protested at this  injustice they were dubbed as 'miscreants'.
4.  Only those students who were domiciled in Balochistan were  entitled to apply for a scholarship. They were required to submit a domicile certificate issued by an appropriate official. Since almost all officials came from Panjab they would either refuse to issue a certificate to a Baloch student under one pretext or
another or delay the issuance for months on end until it would be too late to apply for a scholarship. Whereas the children and relatives of the officials, who were not even born in Balochistan and could still very well be living and studying in Panjab, would be issued certificates on a fast-track basis in order to prove that they were bona fide domiciles of Balochistan.
5.  Since almost all scholarships would go to the Panjabi students, many Baloch students would become so utterly disillusioned tha they would drop out. The rest would wait until the next year hoping against all hope to finally get a scholarship. Come next year they would go through the same pantomime again and  consequently many more would drop out. Students and parents protested against this cruel policy but there was no one to listen to them. It was a deliberate policy pursued by the government to deny the Baloch their lawful right to a decent education.
In the early years there were only a few high schools in the whole of Balochistan. Because distances from one town to the next were so incredibly vast people demanded more schools but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Not only that but they were threatened with punitive action. Speaking of distances the following brief list will show how vast the distances indeed are: 
 Turbat - Quetta         607 km                            Turbat- Mastung         562 Km
Gwadar - Quetta        730 k                            
Turbat - Khuzdar      405 km                             Panjgur - kalat            334 km
Gwadar - Turbat       129 km                              Turbat - Panjgur        148 Km
Turbat - Kalat           483 km                               Mand- Sibi                   688 km
Jiwani - Quetta          770 km                              Pasni- kharan            416 km         
Mand - Turbat          102 km                               Turbat- Jiwani              169 km
Mand - Quetta          667 km                                Quetta- kalat               138 km
Quetta - Mastung        48  km                             Turbat - Tump                69 Km
Although some of the distances are in double figures and do seem much shorter but we are talking about 60 years ago when the only modes of transport were either the camel back or the goods lorries which were endemically unreliable. These lorries were 20 to 30 years old. They ran only once a week from one town to another delivering goods. They were not meant for carrying passengers. Occasionally the driver would agree to carry a few passengers or a sick person. Because these lorries were pretty ancient they would break down half way through the journey; as a result the passengers would be stranded and reach their destination two to three weeks later. So the only reliable mode of transport was, in actual fact, the camel. One of the shortest journeys, say from Turbat to Tump (only 69 km), would take 2 whole days on the camel back. Imagine how many days and weeks it would take from Turbat to Quetta, a journey of 607 km. If one was to embark on the same journey by a goods lorry it would take between 7 to 10 days in normal weather conditions and without the lorry breaking down.  
One can understand as to why the people demanded schools and colleges in all the towns and larger villages. But the new colonial rulers ignored their demands with utmost contempt. They did not want Baloch children to be educated. It is worth reminding the fact that this was a time when high schools, colleges and universities were mushrooming in all parts of Panjab, the rulers neither increased the number of schools nor even bothered to develop the infra-structure in Balochistan which reminded one of dark ages. Each year hundreds of under-privileged pupils would drop out of school because after finishing primary or middle school there won't be any higher schools in the nearest towns. Even if there was a higher school in the nearest town the distance would, in most cases, be so great it would be physically impossible for a pupil to walk to school and come back home on the same day. Because of the vastness of the country the nearest town could in many cases be between 30 to a 100 miles away. As a result the pupils would have no choice but to quit. The situation of high school students was not any better either. After finishing high school not many students could afford to go to Quetta and study in the college there. Only a very small number of those lucky enough to get a scholarship would be able to continue their education whilst majority of them, some of whom the brightest, would unfortunately have no option but to drop out to make way for students IMPORTED from Panjab. Such was the heritage of the colonial and racist educational policy of Pakistan. It was the cruelest of all their policies.
Examining Board
Balochistan, for a very long time, wasn't thought fit enough to have its own secondary education board. At the time of Annexation it came under the jurisdiction of the Panjab secondary board. People were not happy with this arrangement because the Panjab board had only one examination centre in Balochistan for matriculation exams which was located in Quetta. Every year examination papers would be sent from Lahore which would seldom arrive on time. Students from all over Balochistan after WEEKS of travel would converge on Quetta, some staying with relatives but many at musafirkhanas, the old-fashioned travelers' inns with notoriously unhygienic facilities. The students would all ensure to arrive on time. But quite often they would be shocked to learn that their exam papers hadn't arrived yet. They would sometimes be made to wait for weeks. The poorest of them who could not afford to stay any longer wait a few more days and then leave saying farewell to Quetta and to their dream of a better future. People demanded that Balochistan should have its own examining board and that more examiation centres should be set up in different districts of Balochistan. But the rulers were not prepared to change the status quo. People would be routinely accused by the authorities of "anti-Pakistan" activities just for demanding a separate examining board for Balochistan and establishment of more schools and colleges.
In the middle of 1950s students began organising themselves. In 1956, students in Makran founded "Makran Sudents Federation". Its main demands were 1) the estalishment of a Balochistan Secondary Board, 2) more exam centres throughout Balochistan and 3) establishment of more schools and colleges in all major towns. The General Secretary of the Federation was Mohammad Siddiq Azad. He was accused of anti-State activities and links with the Communist Party and anti-Pakistan Baloch leadership. In those early days these were some of the patent charges, especially that of communist links, leveled against anybody who raised his or her voice against any kind of injustice. Azad says he and his friends didn't then know much about communism and communists. However, they fully supported the Baloch leadership but the latter never tried to influence them in any form or shape.
In 1961 a Balochistan wide student organisation, i.e., Warna Waninda Gal, which later became Baloch Students' Organisation, was formed in Quetta. Because of his previous experience in the field, Siddiq Azad was elected General Secretary of Warna Waninda Gal. Again the main objectives of this new organisation were to strive for the establishment of a Balochistan secondary board an d of new schools and colleges in all the major towns. It also demanded more exam centers throughout Balochistan. Instead of addressing these problems the authorities accused WWG of "subversive" activities. The rulers' totally unreasonable and inflexible attitude politicised the students even more so. They began to see the rulers in their true colonial colours. And the people in general were very angry with the rulers for failing to accept their non-political and reasonable demands.
In 1963, Siddiq Azad visited Lahore, which was then the capital of West Pakistan, to lobby for the establishment of a separate examining board for Balochistan. He met several West Pakistan Assembly members from Balochistan who were all sympathetic towards the idea except for one member, i.e., Nabi Bakhsh Zehri, who was a staunch Panjab-worshiping businessman-cum-politician. According to Azad the former tried to convince him that Punjab Board was "in the best interests of Balochistan". He advised Azad not to press for a Balochistan Board because it would be unwise "to invite the wrath of Punjab".  However the rulers, sensing the mood of the people decided to "appease" them by bringing Balochistan under the jurisdiction of the Multan Board. As is evident it was the most foolish act on the part of the government because this change was seen as a bad joke and it obviously didn't solve any problem. Multan was and still remains an important city in Panjab. The Baloch people took this decision as an insult to their intelligence. 
(To continue)                            

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