Mainstreaming Baloch youth


By Salma Butt


Social and mainstream (electronic and print) media are the principal sources to spread word about nation building. On several occasions we listen and read loud messages of nation building by the media. The reality, however, shows a different picture; youth sitting in Lahore hardly know the factual situation of their counterparts in Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltitstan. Pashtuns slightly stand out as they have their presence in almost all parts of the country.

Local cultures, demography, educational  opportunities and trends are unknown to youth of different Pakistani regions at large. On the basis of ignorance stereotyping about societies and communities prevails among the youth. For example, in the minds of average people of Punjab, Pashtuns are fighters and like to play with ammunition. The entire Pashtun community’s image is embedded with such stereotyping. Similarly, many believe that the Baloch can kill a Punjabi on sight.

You can also observe a widespread element of hatred against Punjab in the youth of other regions. Such common myths and stereotyping create misleading perceptions among people and may lead to conflicts.

If we apply this factor on youth communities, the main problems youth is going through can be categorised as social, political and economic. This particular mythology against others evolves mainly in the social realm and is related to crisis of identity, migration and issue of being unknown to each other. It affects to the extent that nation building remains merely an idea unless tangible inter provincial youth interaction and coordination at social level happens.

In 2012 the first batch of 97 Baloch students was awarded scholarships to study in Punjab University. The university offers scholarships in its 73 departments, institutes and colleges, which are mostly offering more than one study programme. Over 100 students get enrolled in the PU on scholarship every year. Now it is part of the university policy.

There are around 32,000 students in the PU, most of them belonging to Punjab. The Baloch and Punjabi students are having a rare opportunity to mingle and engage with each other through everyday interactions and academic engagements. They are also having discussions on the root causes of the Balochistan issue among other national issues in the country.

University of the Punjab has not only opened the doors of its campus to Baloch students but also gives a real opportunity to the two politically and culturally disparate groups of the country to interact with each other. Baloch students admit the fact that they could not afford getting into any university and finance their stay at hostels, but they are receiving higher education with support from the government of Punjab in this prestigious university.

I would like to quote some of the direct impressions by the Baloch students currently studying at the campus.

Mehr from Turbat, a student of BS Honors in Clinical Psychology said: “For me studying here is exactly as if a student from Lahore would feel while studying at Oxford. Lahore has become second home to me and so has the Punjab University.”

Nazia from Applied Psychology said “The facilities, faculty and environment are unmatched for us. I wish the number of scholarships grows double for more students to come and learn. Studying here is a life changing experience for me.”

“After a five-day field trip to Khanuspur with my university fellows who were all Punjabis, I am more confident, trust them better and have high respect towards them.”

Attiya from Halley College said: “I had preconceived perception about Punjabis of being superior, clever, less hospitable, diplomatic (negative connotations) and selfish. Now these myths are over for me.”

Maria from Turbat said: “It’s a golden opportunity which has opened a new world to me. Education is experiential here. I am a student of the Mass Communication Department and have access to library, international journals, audio-video lab, FM radio, transportation facility, field work and internet 24/7. I have visited stock exchange for a lecture, which was unimaginable for me”.

Maqbool Baloch from Mastung said: “I learnt tolerance and cultural diversity. With time I have learnt that use of verbal abuse while cracking jokes and routine gossip is a cultural expression and not a way to humiliate someone. I had serious fights in the beginning due to misunderstandings and my inability to understand the style of local communication. My Balochi attire is a point of amusement for locals”.

Baloch students who have graduated from the University are making a mark in Balochistan by attaining good positions by appearing in competitive examinations.

There are over 400 students so far enrolled in the university, more than half of which belong to the Baloch communities. As many as 17 girls have benefited from the scholarship programme and all of them are Baloch.

It would be a good idea to replicate the same scholarship model for Baloch students in other top universities of the country.