Losing face

A series of acid attacks on girls in Balochistan have raised concerns about growing radicalization in the province

Losing face
A series of acid attacks on women in Balochistan aimed directly at their freedom have raised new concerns about women’s safety in Balochistan’s traditionally patriarchal society. At least 12 women have been targeted in recent attacks throughout the province carried out by men riding motorcycles. The survivors include teenagers.

On July 22, four men riding two motorcycles used syringes to throw acid on four women who were shopping for Eid in the provincial capital Quetta.

The very next day, two young sisters were attacked in a similar manner while they were out with their mother on Chandni Road in Mastung. They were 12 and 14. “There have been several such attacks on Chandni Road,” said Munir Ahmad, a local stringer.

On July 30, four men barged into a house in Pishin and threw acid on six women. They sustained injuries on their feet. The deputy commissioner of Pishin said the attack was the outcome of an old rivalry, but locals say women are traditionally not targeted in rivalries between men.

[quote]On July 22, men riding motorcycles used syringes to throw acid on four women who were shopping for Eid [/quote]

“We unequivocally condemn the acid attacks on women, as these are against our traditions, norms, politics and social life,” said Dr Jahanzaib Jamaldini, the senior vice president of the Balochistan National Party’s Mengal faction. “The perpetrators will not achieve anything with these pathetic attacks.”

But this is not the first time such attacks have taken place. On April 13, 2010 – the year when the Balochistan government unanimously passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill – a man riding a motorcycle threw acid on two sisters, 13 and 11, who had gone out to shop in the Killi Hashim Khan area of Dalbandin, the headquarters of Chagai district. A previously unknown Baloch Ghairatmand Group claimed responsibility for the attack on April 17.

“About a month before the attack, on March 23, 2010, the group had distributed threatening pamphlets in the district, warning women and girls not to leave their homes or go shopping,” said Ali Raza Rind, a journalist and rights activist based in Dalbandin.

After a nationwide reaction to the attack, the group warned journalists in another pamphlet distributed on April 20 against reporting the attack. Several reporters were named and threatened in the document.

Two weeks later, three sisters aged 14, 16, and 20 came under a similar attack in the traditionally secular Kalat district. Kalat also houses a sizable population of Hindus, who have been living there since the time of the Sewa Dynasty in the 7th Century.

Two acid attacks were reported in the province in 2012, carried out in a similar manner following threats made in pamphlets, raising questions about the provincial government’s law-enforcement capabilities.

Locals say women in Balochistan, especially in the districts where the recent attacks took place, are living under fear. Girls going to school or for shopping are being accompanied by male elders. “This may make them safer for now,” one rights activist said, “but radicalization in the province is a growing concern, and unless the government can show the capacity to protect them, they have no choice but to give in to the demands of the radicals.”

The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta

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