‘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.”


Nadine Labaki, Rami Malek score Oscar nominations as race kicks off

Updated 22 January 2019
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Nadine Labaki, Rami Malek score Oscar nominations as race kicks off

DUBAI: The Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, with Lebanese director Nadine Labaki scoring a nomination for her film, “Capernaum.”

Meanwhile, American-Egyptian actor Rami Malek was nominated for “Leading Actor” for his role as Freddie Mercury in in Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while breakout star Mahershala Ali scored a “Supporting Actor” nomination for his role in “Green Book.” Ali made history for being reported as the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar in 2017, for his role in "Moonlight."

Actors Tracee Ellis Ross and Kumail Nanjiani announced the nominations at 5:20 a.m. in Los Angeles, as film critics, movie stars and producers and directors across the world set their alarms early to catch the eagerly-awaited submissions for Hollywood's most coveted awards.

The show will take place on Feb. 24 and will see Hollywood’s cream of the crop go head to head.

Labaki’s “Capernaum” was widely expected to be nominated as it has been well received by international critics.

The gritty film, which won the 2018 Cannes Jury Prize, centers on a poverty-stricken child who sues his parents in protest of the life they have given him. Last year’s Oscar entry from Lebanon, Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult,” also earned a nomination.

One of the most buzzed-about foreign language films this year, however, is “Roma” from Alfonso Cuaron — a black and white ode to his childhood in 1970s Mexico City that took home two Golden Globes, including best director.

The film was produced by streaming giant Netflix, which has come under criticism from its more traditional rivals for its strategy of massive online distribution of original content — and screenings in only a few cinemas.

“Roma” is the first Netflix film to vie for glory in major Oscar categories.

It was also nominated in the coveted “Best Film” category, alongside “Black Panther”

“BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favorite,” “Green Book,” “Roma” and “A Star is Born.”

Last year, the awards season was marked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and the birth of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements against sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace.

This year, multiple controversies are plaguing the Oscars — none of them related to last year's bombshell.

In August, the Academy — under fire for being too elitist — announced it would add a “best popular film” award. But many saw the new category as a booby prize for blockbusters like “Black Panther” that would keep them out of contention for top honors.

The plan was scrapped a month later.

Then actor-comedian Kevin Hart had perhaps the briefest tenure ever as Oscars host — a few days. He withdrew after homophobic tweets he had written years ago sparked a crippling backlash on social media.

Of course, on Oscars night, the focus will revert to the nominees and the red carpet glamor.

Key Nominations

Best Film

‘Black Panther’

‘BlacKkKlansman’

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

‘The Favorite’

‘Green Book’

‘Roma’

‘A Star is Born’

Vice

Best Foreign Language Film  

‘Capernaum’ (Lebanon)

‘Cold War’ (Poland)

‘Never Look Away’ (Germany)

‘Roma’ (Mexico)

‘Shoplifters’ (Japan)

Best Actor

Christian Bale, "Vice"

Bradley Cooper, "A Star Is Born"

Willem Dafoe, "At Eternity's Gate"

Rami Malek, "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Viggo Mortensen, "Green Book"

Best Actress 

Yalitza Aparicio, "Roma"

Glenn Close, "The Wife"

Olivia Colman, "The Favourite"

Lady Gaga, "A Star Is Born"

Melissa McCarthy, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"