Hamid Ali :
Interview By: Karlos Zurutuza
Karlos Zurutuza is a freelance journalist covering off-the-radar conflict regions in the Caucasus and Central Asia. He was awarded the Nawab Bugti Reporting Award 2009 for his reporting on the Baloch areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
“Despite the appalling illiteracy rate among us, many Baloch speak more than four languages.”
Hamid Ali Baloch
It’s not only that the Baloch have managed to keep their language alive amid decades of terrible repression. Multilingualism is also a feature of a country where almost 80% of the people are illiterate.
How would you describe the Balochi language?
Balochi is an Indo-European language, hence close to English, Russian or Pushtun, just to mention a few. The closest language to Balochi is Kurdish, as ours also belongs to the Iranian family. Moreover, many scholars claim that Balochi has kept Sanskrit’s original pronunciation. Balochi is written in the Arabian-Farsi alphabet, even though several diaspora intellectuals use the Latin alphabet, which also matches the needs of our tongue. Unfortunately, we still haven’t agreed on a common standard for all of us.
What´s the current situation of Balochi in East Balochistan?
When East Balochistan was annexed by Pakistan in 1948, Islamabad promised our people that Balochi would be taught at school. In one way or another, this was observed until 1973. The Constitution signed that same year granted us an education in Balochi but, sadly enough, we got none of that. Today Islamabad does not support education in Balochi in any way so we have to do it by ourselves.
How do you manage?
Recently several private schools have taken up education in Balochi. The number of lessons is still very scarce as we rely solely on private funding. For example, my monthly salary is 22,000 rupees (180 euro) from which I give 1,000 to support education in Balochi. There is a very solid group in Quetta (East Balochistan’s capital) which deals with the issue and, as a teacher, I think it’s of the biggest importance. On the other hand, the diaspora is also helping. There are many Baloch in Arab countries such as Bahrein, Oman and Dubai who also support us. The Academy of Balochi publishes between 15-20 books every year and it will soon publish a Balochi-Balochi dictionary.
What can you tell us about the situation of Balochi in Western Balochistan?
As far as I know, our brothers from the other side of the border cannot publish anything in Balochi at all, at least not in an open way. Several Balochi magazines were published after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 but all of them were soon banned by the Atatollah’s regime. Bear in mind that being a Baloch in Iran implies a double “handicap”: you’re “non Farsi”, but also “non Shiite”. Besides not getting any support at all to sustain their language, Western Baloch are also prosecuted for it. Another matter of deep concern for us is the ever growing influence of Farsi in Balochi.
But, against all odds, the Baloch are still a polyglot people, are they?
Very much indeed! Despite 80% of the Baloch being illiterate, many of them speak four languages, or even more. In Eastern Balochistan all of us speak Balochi as our mother tongue and Urdu as a second language, but also Pushtun because of the big intercourse with them. And don´t forget we were a colony of the British Empire for decades so many of us speak English too. Besides, around a million speak Brahvi as well.
Yes, it´s a local and very ancient language of Dravidian roots so it’s not Indo- European. For example, the Mengals always speak Brahvi among themselves. At some point Islamabad tried to sustain “Brahvi nationalism” to enforce division among ourselves but they never succeeded The Brahvis have always taken themselves as Baloch, which is something none of us has ever disputed.
So we get two native languages for the same people, is that right?