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Tributes to Professor Saba Dashtyari by Malik Siraj Akbar, Kambar Ali, Imtiaz Baloch and Video interview by Homayoun Mobaraki

By Malik Siraj Akbar

I do no know any young Baloch of my generation who was not keen to meet Professor Saba Dashtiyari during his early school days. As a school student in Panjgur, my hometown, I first heard about Saba, who was brutally shot dead on Wednesday night in Quetta where he was among the very few brave men who would still take a walk on Sariab Road in spite of serious law and order problems confronting the provincial capital.

As young kids, we had heard charming stories about a Baloch professor who was an atheist but, ironically, taught theology and Islamic studies at the University of Balochistan. Another thing that fascinated us about him was the narrative that he spent most of his salary on the promotion of Balochi language academies and preparation of Balochi text books.

I was in my early teens when I met Professor Saba at Panjgur’s Izat Academy, a local organization that used to publish a Balochi language liberal magazine Chirag under the editorship of Karim Azad. The magazine was eventually shut down because of a chronic financial crunch.

My interactions with Saba increased in Quetta at the University of Balochistan. There were always two things one could not overlook while entering the University: the heavy presence of the Frontier Corps (FC) and Saba Dashtiyaris table surrounded by students. Saba ran kind of a (liberal) university within the (strictly controlled) university. He was an easily approachable professor who would sit outside the canteen to share ideas with students. While getting into our classrooms, I would often see two to three students sitting with the Professor at around 10:00 am. Within two hours, when I’d walk to the same place, the circle of the students by that time would have expanded to 20 to 30.

If you walked individually, he’d excuse the group of students surrounding him and call at you “Biya day bacha” (Come over, boy) but if you walked in a group of students, “he’d pluralize it “biye e day bachikan” (Come over, boys).

The group of students that surrounded the Professor often comprised of progressive and liberals. One would barely make sense of the composition without squinting at the books they carried in their hands. These students held books written by free thinkers like Bertrand Russell and others held some Russian fictions by Leo Tolstoy or Maxim Gorky. There were the ones who’d be holding Syed Sibth-e-Hassan’s work or that of Dr. Mubarak Ali.

After seeing these books, one would sit down to listen to the contents of the discussion taking place on this exceptional circle. Discussions headed by Saba were far more liberal and enlightening than what we could learn from our classrooms. The participants of the discussions would talk on a variety of topics ranging from politics, religion, revolutions, nationalism to taboos topics like sex and homosexuality. Students often wondered why rest of the professors inside the university was not as liberal and easily approachable like Saba.

The great Professors’ humbleness dated back to his family background. He came from a low-income family of Karachi which had actually migrated from Dasthiyar area of Iranian Balochistan. Thus, he alluded to his ancestral town throughout his life with his last name “Dashtiyari” (which meant someone who came from Dashtiyar).

Saba was born in 1953 Karachi and attained his basic education in the slums. He obtained a Masters degree in Philosophy and Islamic Studies from the University of Balochistan. His love for different languages took him to the Iranian cultural center where he spent four years to learn Persian and then learned Arabic from the Egyptian Radio.

Very few people took the responsibility of promoting Balochi language and cultural with such a great personal and professional commitment as Professor Dashtiyari did.

Although, he silently remained involved in teaching and promoting the language for around two years, he subsequently realized he was not sufficiently contributing to the Baloch movement. Thus, he walked outside the University and joined as an activist. During the last three years, Saba was seen in the forefront of the movement demanding the release of thousands of missing Baloch persons. He used to sit at different hunger strike camps to sympathize with the families of the missing persons and address various seminars.

In one such seminar, a female journalist interrupted Saba’s speech and said she would not let him speak on Balochistan. The lady’s interruption did not discourage or humiliate the Baloch professor who said in front of an august gathering that he would exercise his right to freedom of expression. Freedom in its all forms meant a life to him.

Two days before coming to the US, Saba and I spent around five hours together in Quetta. After he transported two boxes of books to a Karachi-based academy, we sat along with some other friends in Quetta’s Pishin Stop at a fast food restaurant to discus the situation in Balochistan.

I inquired about the remarkable transformation in his personality and the causes that forced him to become an activist. In response, he sounded very frustrated with the state of affairs in Balochistan and did not mince words.

“Pakistan is a colonial state,” he said, “It is trying to eliminate the Baloch people and their culture. As professionals, we have to understand it’s our responsibility to come forward to assure our people that they are not alone.”

He believed that the Balochs should establish parallel educational institutions to counter the official propaganda and efforts to assimilate the Baloch into an alien culture. He was perturbed over the lack of official encouragement for the Balochi language and emphasized on the need for societal efforts to preserve the Baloch identity.

A practical man, he had established a prestigious Balochi reference center which was named after Syed Zahoor Shah Hashimi, another respected Balcoh intellectual.

He never married; spent whole his life for the promotion of Balochi language and culture.

Before I bid farewell to him outside his residence at the University Colony, Saba referred to my upcoming trip to the US and instructed: “Day Bacha mara odha washnaam bekan” (Oh boy, do make us proud there — in the US).

It is utterly futile to demand an inquiry into Saba’s murder as an inquiry is not what is going to help. All that we need to mourn is the great loss of an extraordinary educator of Balochistan. This is no longer a secrete how the government is target killing Baloch professors, writers, journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and political leaders. This is a period of unity among the people of Balochistan and the Balochs all over the world.

Every day, I receive a number of phone calls, emails and Facebook messages advising or ‘ordering’ me to “be careful” over what I write. What does it actually mean to be careful? There is no way carefulness can bring an end to this traumatic cycle of systematic elimination of Baloch scholars. It is worse not to speak up against this barbaric cycle of violence. The killing of enlightened writers and professors like Saba is simply a clear message to all the liberals that we should either give up or get prepared to be killed.

I know getting killed is a heavy price for anyone of us to pay for our work but to live under oppression and injustice is like getting killed every other day. There is no justice without struggle. We all need to stand up for truth and refuse to succumb to this challenge.

It’s no cliché: Saba was unique and irreplaceable. You will not find a man who’ll spend his salary to impart cultural awareness and secular education at a time when the State of Pakistan is spending billions of rupees with the assistance of its Saudi cronies to radicalize the Baloch society by constructing more and more religious schools to counter the liberal nationalist movement.

Malik Siraj Akbar is the editor-in-chief of The Baloch Hal, the first online English newspaper of Balochistan, Pakistan. He is a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Arizona State University, USA.

***

In the Memory of My Teacher–Professor Saba Dashtyari—Part 1

By Kamber Ali
June 4, 2011

On the 1st of June 2011 at 23.58 EST, my mobile phone beeped while I was reading an online article. When I clicked to see the message from my cousin in Karachi, the screen displayed: BAD NEWS: PROFESSOR SABA DASHTYARI HAS BEEN KILLED BY UNKNOWN TARGET KILLERS AN HOUR AGO IN QUETTA. Shocked! Disbelieve! Anger! Deeply hurt and saddened – I lost my Teacher!

I’m writing this article in the memories I shared with this great teacher, philosopher, poet, writer, linguist, activist, socialist, nationalist and above all a great human being – Professor Saba Dashtyari Shaheed.

As a young boy, I’ve heard fascinating stories from my cousins and friends about a Lyari-born Baloch Professor who was an atheist but, ironically, thought Islamic studies and theology at University of Balochistan. Another thing that took my attention was his love and deviation for Balochi language, literature, culture, history and the desire to build and institutionalise Balochi language and culture for research purpose which eventually laid the foundation of first Balochi Library, Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi Reference Library in Karachi.

It was the mild winter of 2002 when my cousin Aamir and friend Alam introduced me to one of the greatest man I have ever met and shook hands with Professor Saba Dashtyari.

There was this tiny cafeteria located in Lyari where I first interacted with the Professor. As I entered the cafeteria, my friend pointed at a man facing the wall, saying, Ustaad auda neshta (The “Teacher” is sitting there). He was having a cup of tea and a newspaper beside him along with his brown threaded bag; hooked on the edge of the chair. I walked closer to him facing his back, looking at his curled whorl hair with specs visible from behind. As I stood in front of him, I had a feeling of meeting a clean shaven Saint sitting with a pen in his fist. I shook his hand and introduced myself:

Salaam Waja (Hello Sir), mani naam Kambar’e (My name is Kambar). He replied spontaneously: "O bezaa’n tae naam Kambar’ee . . . Meer Kambar’e shayra zanee? (Oh so your name is Kambar, do you know the couplets on Mir Kambar?). Kambar is a famous heroic figure in western Baluchistan (Iranian Baluchistan) which dates back from 18th century. Many poets and singers have written and sung verses for Mr Kambar.

I humbly replied "Ji waja (Yes, Sir) Man Zana (I know it) and I started to recite the verses just to show off that I know it:

Meer kambar o sabze sagaar . . . Zahma beja naama bedaar! (Great Kambar of an astonishing gesture . . . Swing the sword and prints its name in history).

He used to be very happy when his students recited Balochi poems and proverbs in a situation where Balochistan’s borders are occupied and both the “superior states”, Iran and Pakistan, have imposed Farsi and Urdu languages on the native Balochs in all spheres of life.

Professor Saba Dashtyari, mostly known for his contribution to progressive Balochi language and literature, was born as Ghulam Hussain in 1953 in Lyari district of Karachi and attained his education in the slums. He was highly influenced by Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi, another late Baloch intellectual and linguist. He obtained a Masters degree in Philosophy and Islamic studies from Karachi University. He was fluent in many languages including English, Farsi and Arabic. The Professor always believed in freedom of speech and expression.

His literary contributions include more than 24 books on Balochi literature, history, poetry and translations. He also established the Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi Reference Library, Pakistan’s largest library on Balochi literature, in Malir area of Karachi. From 1996-2002, the Professor went on a charity mission and travelled to Gulf countries, Europe, and America requesting Baloch masses to join the cause in order to preserve our Balochi language and literature in a shape of library.

One day, he told me in a lighter humour "I spend six years travelling in four different continents to collect nearly four to five hundred thousand rupees in order to start the library work and construction but I could only collect Rs 250,000!". Then he continued, "If a mullah (priest) had travelled for charity in the name of a Masjid (mosque) he would have received a bigger amount of money in few months from your nation and else where". But Waja Dashtyari was very much optimistic and continued until finally he laid the foundation of first Balochi reference library. He funded the library with his own salary and spent money on its development untill his death.

Currently, the library houses more than 150,000 books in various languages on Balochi literature, culture and civilisation. Furthermore, he also compiled an index and bibliography of Balochi literature published in the past 50 years.

I remember once I went to visit him in at the University of Balochistan, along with my cousin and a friend, back in 2003, he was lecturing a class on Islamic Philosophy. Three of us quietly entered his classroom and sat down. He was explaining the characteristic of Islamic states in the Khalifa era, the concept charity and zakat system, the actual phenomena of masjid, the rights of women and care of ageing people as mandatory duties in Islam etc. which took me to immense surprise to see the level of passion with which he performed his job, keeping aside his own believes. As the class ended, we walked toward his apartment. Being sceptical to what I saw, I impatiently raised a stupid question;

"Waja (Sir), shoma Islamiyat baaz shariye sara dar borta" (You really have a good knowledge in Islamic studies). I say it was a stupid question because I knew that he had remained a lecturer of Islamic studies and philosophy for past 30 years.

The Professor very charmingly said "Aday bechaa Elm’e Zaanag dege gapp’e O Elm’e Mannag dege chiss ze" (Acquiring knowledge on a particular thing doesn’t necessary means you have to believe in it as a sole truth). I just loved the way Saba spoke Balochi. The tone, the style and variant he had while speaking sounded like a hymn to my ears. Then we sat at his apartments for an hour where you could see medium size posters of Gandhi and Syed Hashmi next to each other on the wall, numerous numbers of audio cassettes in his cupboard, mostly those of leading Indian singer Mohd Rafi Saab’s and when I expressed my favouritism to Rafi, he smiled and said:

"Achaa guda to haa choo borzee surr’ey goshdaaroke haa (So you also prefer the high pitch singers ha). I smiled and replied "Jii Waja" (Yes Sir).

Saba was astonishingly brave with a charismatic personality. He was an ardent reader and one who purely understood the philosophy of democracy, liberalism and nationalism. He drew more of his respect as being one of the most versatile teachers who had mastered in many field of life. If he speaks on history it means he had mastered the science of it. If he spoke on politics or philosophy then he would cite several books to support his arguments.

One of Balochistan University student-turned-journalist, Malik Siraj Akbar, has rightly argued in his article The Martyred Professor that "Saba ran kind of a (liberal) university within the (strictly controlled) university".

I completely endorse what Malik wrote. Often, students would sit beside him and hear him for hours. He was in all sense a Balochi Encyclopaedia; he carried an Academic account in himself. He could speak and debate on any topic be it religion, politics, philosophy, history, linguistic, science. As a keen learner I’ve always listened to and admired what he said about literate balochi words, adjectives and the style. He’d always increased my interest and knowledge for the language. He was the gravity of attention among the students and activists wherever he went. (To Be Continued)

***

Prof. Saba Dashtiyari: Voice of Freedom from the Slums of Lyari

by Imtiaz Baloch
June 2, 2011

From a poor family of Lyari, Karachi to a jostling crowd around his bullet-riddled body, Prof. Saba Dashtyari has established his place in the emotions of Baloch people. My hands are shaking and eyes full of tears when I heard the news of Prof Saba Dashtayri’s assassination. I cannot claim to have known Prof. Saba Dashtayari well, but I am touched so as thousands of other Baloch political workers in some way or other by this legendary Baloch scholar, teacher, linguist, poet and writer. I recall my first meeting with Prof. Saba Dashtayari in the early 1980s. I missed my university bus so as Prof. Saba , we both hop on the same bus to University of Karachi. The meeting with Prof. on the bus to Karachi University stirred my interest in Balochi poetry and literature and opened my mind on Baloch history and language. This great man changed my complete political outlook. One can always find him in his typical shalwar- kameez, and glasses and sharing emotional hugs to the Baloch political workers in the procession against the slow motion genocide of Baloch masses.

According to the eyewitnesses, masked persons gunned down Professor Dashtiyari on Wednesday night allegedly by the goons of Pakistan Army in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. The professor instantly succumbed to the injuries after receiving bullets in his head and neck. This assassination further substantiates the state policy of eliminating the Baloch scholars, intellectuals, poets, and teachers by the death squads of Pakistani Army.

Prof. Saba Dashtyari was born in a poor family belonging to the slums of Lyari, Karachi in 1953. Along with being fluent in Balochi and Urdu, he knew English, Persian, and Arabic with an in-depth understanding of history and philosophy. He authored several books on Balochi language and literature. Prof. Dashtyari also is the pioneer of Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi Reference Library in Malir area of suburban Karachi, with more than 150 thousands titles and research documents in various languages particularly on Balochi literature, culture and civilization. It also is the Balochistan’s largest library on Balochi literature.

Cowardice seems to be the destiny of this God forsaken country where the Pakistan Army and its network of agencies have failed to stop the volcanoes of militancy by the Taliban. A nuclear-armed state is showing their brutal force against the poor Baloch masses and its intellectual elite. Balochistan is under colonial occupation by the Pakistani military for the last 62 years.

Today the Baloch motherland will embrace the first martyred Baloch linguist, poet, writer who did not only donated his monthly earning to the Zahoor Shah Library but also sacrificed his professional teaching career to join the movement of armed resistance for the national liberation of the Balochistan. After the martyrdom of Baloch National Movement chief Ghulam Mohammed, Professor Dashtyari took the responsibility of organizing and educating the Baloch youth. He was an active participant in protest rallies and an outspoken advocate of independent Balochistan. He sacrificed his life for the rights and freedoms of Baloch people. Prof. Dashtyari felt and expressed the pulse of common Baloch in his beautiful poetry. In his death, he has become the mirror of the Baloch national struggle, shining the path to freedom.

Imtiaz Baloch Information Secretary of Baloch Human Right Council (BHRC) Canada. The writer can be reached at imtiaz2000@hotmail.com

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