In spite of, and in part inspired by Sabeen Mahmud’s murder, faculty members at the Karachi University (KU) held a seminar highlighting the issues surrounding the missing people in Balochistan . Mama Qadeer, Farzana Majeed and Mohammad Ali Talpur, whose activities have irked the government, were the main speakers at the event – titled ‘Baloch missing persons and the role of state and society’. Despite facing opposition from the KU administration and cognisant of the danger that surrounds any such activity, that students and faculty members were willing to stand their ground is a testament to their courage. On the flip side, an incident-less event indicates that perhaps the forces that seek to silence debate on this issue recognise that forcefully clamping down on dissent only makes it stronger; and if they haven’t, the relatively tepid aftermath of the seminar should make it abundantly clear.
The brave actions of the organisers and the attendees of the seminar echo those that have troubled dictators and despots throughout history; that despite of insurmountable odds – and to an extent because of them – people will continue to raise their voices against perceived injustices. Every instance of censorship is used to fuel the next demonstration, the next dialogue; and as the leaders of Egypt, Syria and Israel know, only through extraordinary oppression can this cycle be broken. While the seminar faced opposition from the KU administration, there was no direct outside pressure – like the one exerted on LUMS. KU’s actions were an attempt at self-censorship. Whether these outside forces have given up the censorship policy or they have chosen to let this instance go by to avoid back-to-back controversies remains unclear. Either way the result was a balanced, healthy, and most importantly, a peaceful discussion; which is less damaging than the forces of censorship believe it to be.
Firstly, the successful seminar caused a much smaller ripple in the national narrative than an unsuccessful would have caused; showing that banning something remains the most effective way of ensuring maximum publicity. Secondly, the dissent against government actions did not preach violence nor draw it; it questioned policies through the prism of the constitution and demanded solutions within that framework. No ‘anti-Pakistan” sentiments were expressed, nothing unpatriotic was uttered. Finally, the debate, being a free and open, examined both sides of the coin. Several attendees grilled Mama Qadeer and company about the atrocities committed by the Balochistan Liberation Army, and demanded justice for their slain relatives.
An unimpeded discussion is not only balanced, but it is peaceful; only logic can convince a person of the error of their ways, oppression enforces their beliefs, no matter how erroneous. Sabeen Mahmud’s sacrifice enabled others to take up the mantle of openness; that is her legacy.