‘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

‘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.”

Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s ‘Free Solo’ sweeps Creative Emmys

‘Free Solo’ follows Alex Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to climb El Capitan. (Supplied)
Updated 15 September 2019

Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s ‘Free Solo’ sweeps Creative Emmys

  • “Free Solo’” has won seven Creative Arts Emmy Awards
  • The documentary picked up every award for which it was nominated at Saturday’s ceremony in Los Angeles

DUBAI: Co-produced by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, the critically-acclaimed documentary “Free Solo’” has won seven Creative Arts Emmy Awards, adding to a slate of honors that already includes a BAFTA and an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

The documentary picked up every award for which it was nominated at Saturday’s ceremony in Los Angeles, including outstanding directing for a documentary/nonfiction program, outstanding cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing, picture editing, music composition and best achievement in interactive media.

Presented by National Geographic, directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin and co-produced by Image Nation, “Free Solo” follows Alex Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to climb El Capitan – a 3,000 foot high vertical rock in Yosemite National Park – with no ropes or safety gear.

The documentary was co-produced by Parkes+MacDonald, Image Nation, Little Monster Films and National Geographic.

"I think it always comes back to Alex, the diligence and discipline and teaching himself over the years," Vasarhelyi told the Hollywood Reporter backstage at Sunday’s award ceremony. "I think in terms of the Creative Arts Emmys, Alex brought so much craft to what he did, that all of us, every member of our team got a nomination. So it’s incredible to see the Academy appreciates the hard work that went into it."

In February, “Free Solo” won an Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards. After the ceremony Chin told reporters, “Hanging off the wall, I couldn’t see Alex Honnold below, and I just had to trust that he was just being perfect. We also had to carry the weight of the entire production being perfect, because if we made any mistakes, it could have been catastrophic.”

UAE-based fans were treated to a special screening of the film in March and chief content office of Image Nation Ben Ross shared his thoughts at the event.

“From the incredible reviews to the Academy Award and BAFTA wins, we are so proud that Image Nation Abu Dhabi and the UAE can say it helped to support this incredible film…It has been an honor to work with the National Geographic.”