‘Malala of Sindh’ fights to regain her school

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Khanzadi Baloch and her husband Mehboob Ali Baloch speak to Arab News. (AN photo)
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Khanzadi Baloch and her husband Mehboob Ali Baloch speak to Arab News. (AN photo)
Updated 25 February 2018
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‘Malala of Sindh’ fights to regain her school

KARACHI: Almost a decade ago, Khanzadi Baloch gathered a group of young girls under a tree in her village on the border of Sindh and Balochistan and began familiarizing them with basic alphabets and numbers. Her efforts turned out to be an instant success since there were no girls’ schools in her little hamlet — or in seven nearby villages — of Tehsil Garhi Khairo in Sindh’s Jacobabad district. Still only a teenager, she managed to set up an elementary school, attracting a significant number of students.
Baloch had a passion for education and, with an intermediate degree in pre-medical, was arguably the most well-read person in town. She singlehandedly taught these girls and refused to take a penny from them since she knew they came from an impoverished background.
“Nearly a year after I set up the school, an official from the education department, Hajji Maqsood Ahmed Brohi, saw us sitting under the tree,” she recalled while talking to Arab News. “When I told him my story, he said that I was doing commendable job.”
Six months after the chance encounter, Brohi made a surprise phone call to share the exciting news. “He told me that he had got approval to build a school using World Bank money,” she said. Her family provided land for the education institute, which was later built at a cost of Rs7.6 million.
Baloch and her family were impatiently waiting for completion of construction work, but they had different plans in mind. While she was dreaming of a primary school with the best education facilities, her uncle, Mir Dil Khan, and brother, Abdul Waheed, were secretly planning to convert the building into a village courtyard for greater social prestige.
“‘Your job is done,’ my brother told me. ‘We used you since we wanted a cement building’,” Baloch quoted her brother. Her entire village was a small collection of mud houses and a cement structure was nothing short of a novelty.
“I love my students,” she said in a faint voice. “I cried my heart out. Even today, the girls call me and say they want to go back to the school. But my family robbed us of our future. And this was done in connivance with the local sardar [feudal lord].”
Baloch had no option but to put her foot down. “I called up Brohi, who likened me to Malala [Yousafzai, the activist for female education] and said that I was being punished for creating awareness among the young girls of Sindh. He then called the district police officer, who sent his representative to our village.”
That only added to her miseries. “When I came home, my brother started beating me and then forcibly sent me to my maternal aunt’s residence where I lived for a few months.”
Her maternal uncle, Nawab Ali Baloch, took her to Shikarpur, another district in Sindh. Initially, she thought it was to let things cool down, but later the arrangement turned into an illegal confinement. “My uncle locked me in a room and took my cellphone,” she said. “However, I managed to make a call to the police helpline through my younger cousin’s phone.”
The police took Baloch and her uncle to their office. Subsequently, the local judge sent her to Darul Aman, a shelter for women, in Larkana and jailed her uncle. “My uncle’s wife begged me to change my statement,” she recalled. “After a great deal of emotional blackmailing, I retracted my statement which paved the way for my uncle release.”
Her family also asked her to come with them, but Baloch feared for her life and approached the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). She also reached out to a trusted cousin, Mahboob Ali Baloch, a Sindh police constable.
“We verified her story through our local network,” said Asad Iqbal Butt, of the HRCP.
The rights group gave her support after she left the shelter and moved to Karachi. In view of local sensitivities, however, its officials recommended that she marry a relative. This was to avoid the dangerous allegation of hurting her family honor, an accusation frequently made in such circumstances that can lead to “honor killings” in rural Sindh and other parts of the country. As a result, Baloch decided to marry her cousin who stood by her side.
“We married on July 4, 2015, yet we were declared as kari [guilty of undermining family honor]. This was done through a jirga that was arranged by the area’s sardar,” Mahboob Ali Baloch told Arab News.
“He had also attacked my family twice and, after their escape to Karachi, grabbed their cattle, land and other possessions that they had left behind,” he said.
Despite being part of the Sindh police, he lives in fear and changes his address every few months.
Although she is hiding in Karachi, Khanzadi Baloch, now the mother of a five-month-old child, has not given up efforts to take back her school. She has knocked at every door, and regularly visits HRCP’s office for help.
“The HRCP has been writing to the Inspector General of Police and other relevant officials, demanding protection for Baloch, her husband and son,” Butt said. “At one point, they had planned to return home after police assurance,” he said, “but local sympathizers revealed that a plan had been hatched to kill the couple.”
The HRPC also sought help from influential politicians, though, as Butt recalled, they subtly communicated that “the family and the local feudal had over 5,000 votes.”
“Such acts of injustices are daily occurrences, but with the effort of the provincial administration of Sindh, especially woman parliamentarians, such crimes can be decreased,” claimed Saira Shahliani, a female lawmaker of the Pakistan Peoples Party, who was elected on women’s reserved seat from Garhi Khairo.
When asked about this case, Shahliani said she had taken a personal interest in it. “When I heard about it, I went to her village where she was not present,” she said. “But I met with her parents, other family members and several other villagers. I also held a news conference in Jacobabad and assured them that I would support Khanzadi and will help her get justice.”
“In Karachi, I contacted her and she came to my house along with her husband,” she said. “She told me that she wanted to go back to her village. I talked to her parents, but they were not taking the responsibility of her husband’s family. According to them, her husband’s brothers-in-laws [brothers of his other wife] will kill both of them since they were powerful and had the support of the sardar.
“I talked to several influential people of the area, but no one was willing to take the responsibility. This was what I could do for her,” she said.
Asked why she did not involve the state, she said: “I went to senior superintendent of police of Jacobabad, Sajid Khokhar. He said that he had visited the village. When he heard that the school had been converted into the village courtyard, he had placed several restrictions on the use of the school. He also went to the women’s shelter to look for Khanzadi Baloch, but she had left by then.”
Meanwhile, there has been a change in Baloch’s hometown. The Sardar has passed away and his son, who is said to be educated, is at the helm of affairs. Although education sometimes fails to change the feudal mindset, the development has given Baloch and her husband new belief.
“We hope that he will do justice since I do not need anything,” she said. “I need a life and my school. That was my dream, and I want it back.”


Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

Updated 6 min 38 sec ago
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Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

  • The Sea of Galilee has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm
  • Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body
EIN GEV, Israel: It was not so long ago when swimmers at Ein Gev would lay out their towels in the grass at the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
Today, they put up their parasols 100 meters (yards) further down, on a sandy beach that has appeared due to the shrinking of the iconic body of water.
“Every time we come we feel an ache in our hearts,” said Yael Lichi, 47, who has been visiting the famous lake with her family for 15 years.
“The lake is a symbol in Israel. Whenever there is a drought, it is the first thing we talk about.”
In front of Lichi, wooden boats with Christian pilgrims aboard navigate the calm waters, among groups from across the world that visit.
The Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water, has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm.
Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body known to Israelis as the Kinneret and to some as Lake Tiberias.
For Israel, the lake is vital, having long been the country’s main source of water. Israeli newspaper Haaretz provides its water level daily on its back page.
Its shrinking has been a source of deep concern. When two islands appeared recently due to falling water levels, it received widespread attention in the Israeli media.
Since 2013 “we are below the low red line” beyond which “salinity rises, fish have difficulty surviving and vegetation is affected,” said Amir Givati, hydrologist at Israel’s water authority.
The level is only around 20 centimeters (less than eight inches) above the record low plumbed in 2001 — except, at that time, 400 million cubic meters (14.1 billion cubic feet) a year were pumped out for irrigation.
“This year, we only pumped 20 million cubic meters, but the lake is in a very bad state,” said Givati.
Added to that is the 50 million cubic meters Israel sends to neighboring Jordan as part of peace agreements.
Its unique characteristics go beyond its religious significance.
It is 200 meters (650 feet) below sea level, located north of the Dead Sea, the River Jordan between them.
Both the Dead Sea and the Jordan have also suffered from overuse.
The Galilee covers some 160 square kilometers (60 square miles), roughly the size of Liechtenstein.
At the water ministry, blame for its condition is placed on five years of drought.
But “climatic factors alone are inadequate to explain the record shrinkage of the Sea of Galilee,” wrote Michael Wine, Alon Rimmer and Jonathan Laronne, researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University.
Irrigated agriculture, pumping and diversions are the main culprits, they say in an analysis.
Israel constructed a national aqueduct in the 1950s in the years after the country’s birth, when it was on a quest for nation-building and sought to “make the desert bloom,” as its early pioneers put it.
The aqueduct carried water from the lake toward the rest of the country.
“Lake Tiberias was used as a national reservoir,” said Julie Trottier, a professor who specializes in Israeli-Palestinian water issues.
A man-made canal supplied water to the west toward the Mediterranean coast and into the Negev desert in the south, she said.
That system has not been in place for some 10 years. Now, most homes in the west of the country use desalinated water from the Mediterranean, while farms are irrigated with water that is treated and recycled.
But eastern Israel does not have access to desalinated water, said Orit Skutelsky, of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Farmers in the region rely on rivers that provide 90 percent of the lake’s input.
Dozens of pumps remove nearly 100 million cubic meters (3.5 billion cubic feet) each year from those sources, whose flow has decreased and is no longer enough to supply the lake, says the researcher.
Several kilometers from the beaches at Ein Gev, at the foot of rocky hills, immense nets cover banana trees whose leaves wilt with the surrounding dry vegetation.
“We call it the valley of bananas,” said Meir Barkan, tourism director for the Ein Gev resort.
“When they began planting trees, there was no water problem and the banana is the only fruit that you harvest year-round.”
But without desalinated or recycled water, the farms are a main player in the “competition for resources between nature, agriculture and tourism,” said Eran Feitelson, geography professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
For Lior Avichai, agronomist at the Zemach Nisyonot research center, the solution is not to “kill agriculture and the local economy,” but to use less water.
Authorities propose providing the region with desalinated water via the aqueduct.
Skutelsky said that to better manage the ecosystem, the water should be sent further upstream and then allowed to flow down naturally.
But “that would be very expensive,” said Skutelsky.
Menahem Lev, 59, has spent 39 years of his life on the lake as a fisherman.
In his open palm, he displays a Saint Peter’s fish just pulled from his nets, barely bigger than his hand.
“The solution can only come from the government — or from the sky,” he said.
He points to the half-abandoned dock which pilgrims’ boats can no longer reach, forcing visitors to disembark on the bank.
“I am really ashamed when tourists see the lake in this state,” Lev said.