Cohesive Bases of Baloch Nationalism

It has been taken from the book “Baloch Nationalism its origin and development”, written by Taj Mohammad Breseeg. .


Cultural Development

The Baloch possess a rich body of folklore, which is apparent in Balochi proverbs, common sayings, puzzles, song and stories. The striking feature of the whole of the Baloch folklore is its strong national sentiment, its frequent references to the Baloch and Balochistan. Thus with its rich oral folklore, songs, and folk poetry, the Balochi literature constitutes one important source of inspiration for nationalist feelings and emotions. Describing the common characteristics of the Balochi literature, the Swedish scholar, Carina Jahani worte:

Much of the literature that has been produced in Balochi is explicitly nationalist in content. Common themes are the glorification of the deserts and mountains of Balochistan and the bravery, pride, and honor of the Baloch people, often exemplified by semi-mythic heroes such as Mir Chakar and Mir Hammal.

Throughout the centuries, the Balochi oral literature has culture and national feelings. Occupying an important place in their life, the Baloch managed to safeguard their cultural heritage. As observed by Dr. Badalkhan, the Baloch tribes have maintained and developed numerous legends, proverbs, poems and songs. They are also keen on riddles, animals’ tales, and satirical and historical tales. In addition to these genres, there is a more sophisticated oral form or literature, which consists of long recitations that include both prose and verse. Badalkhan explains that this form of expression is part of the common Baloch cultural heritage.

Giving the inspiration of Balochness to the Baloch youth, the best-known folk tale in Balochistan is that of “Shaih Moreed and Hani”. This is a love story, originated from the early centuries of the last millennium, whose hero, Shah Moreed, and heroine, Hani, have become in Balochistan symbols of pure and tragic love, like Romeo and Juliet. It is created with great simplicity, but at the same time with great depth and power, mirroring the national life of the Baloch, their emotions and philosophic ideas (God, evil, predestination).

One of the most important mediums that have been very effective in preserving and transmitting the Balochi language and culture over generations is music. Music has always been a cultural link and a means of expression to the Baloch. History, poetry, etc. were all transmitted through music and songs. Songs are transmitted from one generation to another without altering the lyrics. Yet, the rhythm might vary from one region to another. Among the well-known Balochi musical genres are epic songs and political ones, which are directly linked to nationalism. Epic songs transmit the Balochi history, talk about Baloch customs and traditions, and remind people of the values, such as courage and honor that a warrior should have in order to become a hero.

Dating of written Balochi literature is suspect, however, as the Baloch have a penchant to grant a greater antiquity to their tradition than they warrant. As an example, Kamalan Gichki, who lived in mid-19th century, supposedly authored the Balochi epic Labz-e Baloch. Since 1948, as Balochistan became a part of Pakistan, a more favorable environment led to the growth of such cultural institutions as the Balochi Literary Society and the Baloch Language Association which Balochi Academy in Quetta have made a significant contribution to Balochi publishing and other literary and cultural activities. Thus, the Baloch became increasingly concerned with the development of their language. In 1951 the first monthly periodical, Quman in Balochi, appeared. The Baloch Educational Society (BES) published this in Karachi. Ouman ceased publication in 1962 due to pressure from the Shah. The magazine, according to its editor Moalavi Khair Mohammad Nadvi, supported Dad Shah’s revolt in Iranian Balochistan and was a tribune for the Baloch Nationalists in the region. The BES was formed in 1978 to promote language and culture and also to voice Baloch political and social grievances. Apart from publishing Ouman, the BES started a school in Liari, which was later upgraded, to high school standard.

Being the capital city and the major Baloch residence in Pakistan, in the early fifties Karachi became the focus of intellectual activities in Balochi. The Liari Adabi Board, the Balochi Academy and the Fazol Academy were all was little literary work done in the Balochi language or on behalf of the Baloch cause. Several Baloch publishing academies first appeared in Liari (Karachi) in the early 1950s and served as the vanguard of Balochi literary activity.

Efforts to create an officially backed Balochi Academy started in 1958, and it was established in 1961 in Quetta. Radio Pakistan started its broadcasts in Balochi on 25th December 1949, from Karachi, and on 17th October 1956, from Quetta. When the radio station in Quetta was established, the Balochi programmes were transferred there. In 1959, Radio Iran also started relaying programmes in Balochi from Zahedan. It is interesting to note that in the radio of both Pakistan and Iran, western Balochi was the dominant language. This had great effect towards homogenizing the Baloch. Broadcasts in Balochi, according to Bashir Ahmad Baloch, “served as a great boon to the Balochi language and the development of its literature”.

From the late fifties onwards, more publications came to be centered in Quetta. By this time it was indeed Quetta rather than Karachi, which had become the center of Baloch language activities. The Baloch identity and national consciousness had, after all, better chances of being preserved now than before. As far as Ayub Khan’s government, it too had cause for satisfaction. By partial patronage of linguistic and literacy activities, the bureaucracy could mollify the Baloch intelligentsia and control it. Thus it could prevent the intelligentsia from becoming as alienated from the Center as the militant nationalists were. By contract, no such institutions have ever been allowed to function in Iranian Balochistan.

In this respect, the Shah’s educational programmes, however, are worth mentioning. In the beginning the education policy of the Iranian authorities in Balochistan, first and foremost, was not to give the necessary education to the Baloch children, but was based on de-Balochistan and the creation of Persian speaking citizens. In the view of the Iranian authorities, as observed by Zabihullah Naseh, every Baloch child who went to school should mean the creation of a new Persian-speaking citizen and decreasing of one Baloch linguistically. To prevent them speaking Balochi in the schools with Baloch children, the few Baloch teachers were compelled to work in the other provinces of Iran. In their place non-Baloch and Persian teachers were encouraged to teach in Balochistan. This policy, according to Baloch nationalists, complicated the teaching process and minimized the education standard in Balochistan compared with Persian speaking provinces.

Since the Shah’s While Revolution in 1962, each year, the percentage of the population, which was literate, increased throughout Balochistan. In 1971-72, the total number of the literate population of 7 years and over was listed at 73,300 for the province. By comparison in 1978-79, the numbers of students of all ages enrolled in different provincial schools at various levels alone totaled 128,274, which by itself exceeded the previous figure given for the total literate. Still more impressive was the growth in the field of higher education in the 1970s as compared to the 1960s. as observed by the Iranian writer, Naser Askari, up to 1955, no single Baloch student was enrolled in any institution of higher education throughout Iran. Between 1965 and 1967 only 12 Baloch students were admitted. A series of developments however changed this situation during the last decade of Shah’s regime.

The mounting guerilla activities of Baloch Nationalist in Iranian Balochistan, and their connection with Iraq and other radical Arab forces were a major cause of concern to the Shah. This concern was further exacerbated by the break up of Pakistan and the subsequent rise of Baloch nationalists to power in eastern Balochistan in 1972. Fearful of this situation, the Shah’s government in addition to military pressure to suppress the nationalist initiated a series of economic and education programmes to win over the Baloch population in the early 1970s.

Moreover, in the 1970s, the Shah came under the influence of several Western-educated technocrats, especially Jamshid Amouzegar, who persuaded him that his long-term goals would be served by a more positive approach to the Baloch placing emphasis on economic and education developments. His liberal policy was followed by the rising oil development funds for the neglected minority provinces. Amouzegar also won authority to recruit “reliable Baloch” for key posts in the government bureaucracy and the Rastakhiz party in Sistan-wa-Balochistan.

Consequently, the 1970s saw the establishment of the first institutions of higher education in the province, namely the Teacher Training College of Zahedan and the University of Balochistan in 1972, and 1973, respectively. The inauguration of these institutions brought a simultaneous sharp increase in the number of Baloch students enrolled at the college level. For instance, in the academic year of 1972-73, there were 198 students enrolled in the Teacher Training College. By 1978, the University of Balochistan had a student body of 450. Although the overwhelming majority of the student body in the two institutions was comprised of Persian immigrants, the total number of Baloch students has been estimated between 60 to 100 during the period from 1972 to 1979. This figure for the 1970s is much higher than the similar estimates for the previous decades.

In spite of this progress in provincial educational programmes, the illiteracy rate in the province remained much higher than the national average indicating a gap similar to the economic one mentioned earlier. In 1965-66, the literacy rate in the province’s population of 7 years of age and over was 16 percent as compared with the national literacy average of 29.4 percent. By 1972, the national literacy average for the same age group rose to 36.9 percent as compared with estimated provincial average of 21 percent.

It should be noted that as in the early 1960s, transistor radios became commonplace, more and more Baloch began listening to Balochi broadcasts on Radio Kabul, All-India Radio, and Radio Quetta, in addition to the ninety-minute daily broadcasts in Balochi over Radio Zahedan. Like Ayub Khan’s regime in Pakistan, the Shah’s regime also, confronted with populace that could no longer be insulated from outside political ideas, hastily attempted to guide this burgeoning Baloch political awareness into safe channels by stepping up its own Balochi-language radio programming and, at the same time, embarking on a crash programme to expand educational facilities. With the Iranian revolution of 1978-79, however, tremendous cultural developments took place. Despite being short-lived, this period gave birth to numerous Balochi publications in Iran.

The bulk of the Baloch literature is poetry, which a transmitted orally. The legendary history of the Baloch race and their migrations, wars, religion, and creed form its significant themes. A great number of them are about rule of Rind-Lashari confederacy in 15th and 16th centuries. Stories and Europeans also form the salient features of the Baloch poetry of later centuries. Among the Baloch, the memory of poets such as Gul Khan Nasir, Syed Zahur Shah the Hashomi and Atta Shad arouses deep feeling. They depict the Baloch as a free, autonomous people resisting Iranian, Afghan, Indian (i.e. Mugal), and Pakistani domination. The work of such poets as Basheer Beedar, Ata Shad, Mubarak Qazi, G. R. Mulla and Maulvi Abdullah Rawanbod reaches people through recitals held at public marriage ceremonies; at the meetings of community associations (anjumans), and as seek to strengthen nationalistic sentiments and cultural pride, both in Iranian and Pakistani Balochistan.

After the fall of the Khanate, Gul Khan Nasir, Syed Hashomi, Morad Saher, G. R. Molla, and many other poets gave new meaning and form to Balochi poetry. Gul Khan Nasir’s (1914-1983) poetry is the greatest manifestation and the most profound expression of the Baloch political and social approach since the early thirties. His exhortation to the Baloch to uphold their traditions is a clear sign of the deep-rooted hatred felt towards the new rulers and strong disapproval of the new political dispensation. His poems soon turned to popular slogans and were the subject of discussion by the elite. Gul Khan Nasir comments: “Come, oh Baloch, come oh Baloch, I will tell [your] something today. Come, oh homeless Baloch, You have lost your way. A gang of robbers have attacked your land. They have set fire to your houses. They carried away your possessions, but you are not aware. A heavy sleep upon you, has made your unaware, hand and tongue have ceased to function, it has fettered the manly lion.”

With Nauruz Khan’s rebellion in the late 1950s, the nationalist feeling became deeper and was expressed more clearly in the Balochi literature. The myth of Nauruz Khan and his comrades was spread far beyond the provincial border and was felt among the Baloch population in Sindh and Punjab. It is said, after the execution of his supporters, the authorities sadistically requested the aged warrior to Baz Khan Mazari, describes the modern legend that has evolved around this episode as such:

‘Is this one your son? An army officer coldheartedly asked Nauroz Khan as he pointed to the body of the elderly warrior’s son. Nauroze Khan stared at the soldier for a moment then replied quietly, ‘All these brave young men are my sons.’ Then looking at the faces of his dead supporters, he noticed that the moustache of one of them had drooped in death. He went over to the body and tenderly curled the moustache upwards while gently admonishing. ‘Even in death, my son, one should not allow the enemy to think, even for one moment, that you have despaired’.

Similarly, in the 1970s, as the conflict escalated between the Baloch and the Pakistani State, those who lost their lives are depicted in the Balochi poetry as national heroes. One among these notable heroes was Mir Lauang Khan, the elder brother of Gul Khan Nasir, who fought the army instead of submitting to search. However, the triumvirate – Khair Bakhsh Marri, Ataullah Mengal and Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo – also emerged as nationalist heroes.

Adrmiring his motherland, the nationalist Maulavi, Abdullah Rawanbod, probably was the most famous poet in Iranian Balochistan in the 1970s. Rawanbod comments: “Oh my beloved ancestral land. The country of the brave Baloch. Rival and the envy of Yemen… I adore you so much. I need you as the body needs the breath. In the same way, the Baloch in Afghanistan were even more isolated and kept backward socially and culturally, but they have glorified their legends with various songs. Legends like Ghazi Sher Jan who fought against British hegemony in Nimruz and Helmand (Sistan) are as famous as Dad Shah in Iranian Balochistan. Since the very beginning of Balochi programmes from Radio Kabul, the heroic songs about Ghazi Sher Jan, composed and sung by Ghulam Saljo, a nationalist singer, are being broadcast.

As indicated, the Baloch of Afghanistan remained largely isolated from the events of Pakistani and Iranian Balochistan and from attempts by the Afghan governments to exert administrative control over them. Compared with Pakistani and Iranian Baloch, they are mostly backward. Even though the first school was inaugurated in the country during the reign of Amanullah Khan in 1922, there was too little development in the educational field. In 1979, there were only 20 persons who had university education. Consequently, unlike their brethren in Iran and Pakistan, they had not mobilized to demand cultural and political autonomy as late as the 1970s. In fact, as stated by the Baloch writer, Syed Mohammad Shiranzai from Nimruz, the process of politicizing of the Afghan Baloch started in 1964, when Afghanistan adopted a new constitution monarchy. However, when Mohammad Daud overthrew King Zahir Shah and abolished its traditional Shura (parliament), the process gained further momentum. The competition for parliamentary seats under the new republic of Afghanistan united the Baloch tribes for the first time. It was from this period, Shiranzai believes, that “nationalism became a mobilizing factor in the Baloch society in Afghanistan.”

During the 1970s, however, the pro-Soviet coup of 1978 brought a dramatic change at least in formal cultural policy in Afghanistan. In contrast with Iran, where in 1979 the Islamic revolutionary regime of Ayatollah Khomeini rejected constitutional recognition both of ethnic minorities and of the Sunni religion, the new Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, adopted an unusually accommodative “Nationalities model” akin to that of the Soviet Union. In autumn 1978, only months after the April coup, Balochi and three other languages (Uzbek, Turkmen and Nuristani) were singled out for recognition in addition to Pashtu and Dari as official languages of Afghanistan. Facilities for propagation were pledged, and steps were taken to implement the new policy in four areas – participation in government, education, publication of periodicals, and cultural expression, Soub, a Balochi-language weekly, began publication in September 1978. Beginning in September 1979, balochi-speaking first graders were able to attend classes in their own language, if they so chose. And there were plans, according to Naby, a Harvard specialist on Central Asia, to provide complete Balochi-language schools in Balochi-majority areas. However, the military conflict that followed the Afghan revolution in 1080s disrupted the social and ethnic situation in Nimruz province. Fighting led to an exodus of the Baloch from the area. Many of them settled near related tribes in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.


Posted on July 21, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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