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A Devi in Balochistan

August 1, 2009, 11:09 AM IST Tarun Vijay in Indus Calling | World | TOI

I had almost finished my book on my Balochistan sojourn when the region hit the headlines fiercely. The people of this region are immensely India-friendly. I was there three years ago in a "first of its kind" pilgrimage to Mata Hinglaj, the "kuldevi" (family deity) of kshatriyas. The temple is situated in the rugged mountains of Balochistan. The yatra was made possible by the efforts of Jaswant Singh, then Union minister and an ardent devotee of  Devi. We went by road, first time post-independence, via Munabao and Thar Parkar, crossing Amarkot (renamed as Umarkot, where Akbar was born), Mirpurkhas and Karachi. My inclusion in the group was a sort of miracle — last day, last pilgrim, that too thanks to the then Pakistan high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan.

It has all the ingredients to make people brave and courageous. Seashore, awesome mountain ranges (Gwadar lies in its vicinity and to reach Mata Hinglaj, we travelled on Gwadar highway), Hingol river (named after the vermillion, or  hingula, of Devi Parvati), the Central Makran Range and the Makran Coast Range, sandstone ridges and a tough life in a rough terrain. The road to Hinglaj in Balochistan was one of the toughest pilgrimages in our history as travelogues  have described, taking more than 45 days from Karachi on camels through hot, arid and dacoit-infested desert. Death or "darshan" defined the mission.  A famous Bengali movie on Hinglaj pilgrimage had Uttam Kumar in the lead role, which described it as the pilgrimage of a lifetime. But thanks to the Chinese, a national coastal highway is built up to Gwadar port that takes us to Aghore, where we turn right for the temple. Airconditioned Toyota vans had replaced the camels.

Still, journey from Karachi fatigued us so much we could imagine the travails of earlier pilgrims. Now a semi-pucca road of 22km right up to Nani Mandar, as the signboard describes the Hinglaj temple, had been built by Baloch state government under the then chief minister Jam Yousaf Mir Mohammed, former nawab of Lasbela, the district the Hinglaj temple is situated in. Fire, thunder and sandstone sculpted mountains mark the road to Hinglaj. It’s a great centre of reverence and as the belief is, Parvati’s self-immolation in her father’s "yajna" drove an angry Shiva take the body of his divine consort and travel as many as 52 places where various parts of her body fell and at each such place a "shaktipeeth" or the seat of indescribable spiritual power emerged. One such "peeth" is Hinglaj, where the forehead of Devi with vermillion mark had fallen. For a millennium the pilgrimage to this great seat of Shakti is going on. That Shiva reached from the Himalayas to this region where the sea of sand mingles with blue deep shores of the Arabian Sea while magic appears on the horizon at sunset is an unparalleled tale of our civilisational flow.

The Baloch are hospitable and proud people. The factor of "izzat" is paramount and the Khans will give their lives or take others’ to save their "honour". Pakistan’s rulers have always been hurting Baloch pride since partitioned independence. The ruler of Balochistan Mir Ahmad Yar Khan declared independence in 1947 but was coerced  by Jinnah to sign documents of accession, with a loosely granted permission to act under the provisions of old Baloch traditional constitution called "Rawaj". But Baloch nationalists never accepted Pakistan’s rule and local uprisings kept brewing. The only mass-supported organization Anjuman-i-Watan Party, led by Samad Achakzai, a staunch supporter of Gandhi’s Congress, was banned and the Pakistan army took complete control of the region, beginning an era of brutal suppression, killings, and forced backwardness. Highly profitable gas finds in the Sui region made Islamabad’s Punjabi rulers billionaires and Gwadar helped Pindi’s army officers to buy huge chunks of land and earn profits. The Baloch people see their land and resources being used to provide luxuries to those who never belonged to them. Hence the rebellion.

In 1958, an octogenarian leader of the Baloch people, Nawab Nowroz Khan, led an armed struggle for independence which was crushed by the Pakistan army led by Lt Gen Tikka Khan, who invited the Nawab for negotiations along with his sons and nephews, but instead executed the sons and nephews without a trial. The Nawab died later in jail. From 1963’s liberation war, which lasted till 1969, led by Sher Mohammad Bijarani Marri to the big rebellion, which is known as Baloch Civil War in the 70s, the Baloch people have never reconciled with the Pakistani rule. The 70s war was morally strengthened by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s demand for a separate Bangladesh. Stalwarts like Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Khair Bux Marri and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti led the movement for liberation. It was again suppressed by the warlike response of the Pakistan army. Thousands have been killed and arrested without a trial, increasing and intensifying the hurt in the hearts of the Baloch people.

In 2005 again, Baloch nationalists rose to demand the protection of their rights and safeguarding Baloch cultural identity. In response the Pakistani army killed their 79-year-old leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006.

Forming 43% of Pakistan’s total area with a population of about 6.5 million, Balochistan remains the weakest point of Pakistan, which has been ruled by leaders insensitive to Baloch realities and aspirations.

Local Baloch Khans had been friendly with the Hindus whose numbers were about 54,000 in 1941. Baloch Hindus had a great physique and controlled trade and education sectors till 1947. After the Pakistan army’s complete control over the area, their numbers have reduced to almost less than a half. Hindu concentration is limited to Las Bela, Uthelo, Mithi and Chaman. A large number of them are Valmikis doing menial jobs. Unfortunately the breeze of reform never reached the Hindus in these areas and the so-called low-caste Hindus are suffering the worst kind of "distanced relation" and isolation. How many of them still survive? Nobody has an authentic data but those whom we met at the cave of Mata Hinglaj temple belonged to the affluent sections of the Hindus. There were doctors, traders and engineers who were supporters of parties like Jamate Islami and Pakistan People’s Party. They have learnt to live in their own shell, agreeing to be low-profile and learning ways to survive in a hostile atmosphere. One of the ways is to join available Muslim parties and another, like the Hindu women have learnt, is to refrain from showing marks like bindis that identify them as Hindus. It’s better to be invisible as a Hindu when you are moving out, said one of them.

I met a couple of singers who sang beautiful hymns in praise of Mata Hinglaj and almost all of them had a word of praise for Baloch Muslims. Muslims call this sacred place as Nani Mandar or the temple of the elder.

Devi is a witness to the worst kind of upheavals of history. One can only hope sanity will prevail, bringing peace to this land of devotion.


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