enowned journalist, rights activist, academic, and writer Akhtar Hussain Balouch passed away in Karachi on July 31 after a brief illness. He was 54.
Balouch was a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan council and a regular contributor to various publications focusing on Karachi’s heritage and culture. He was also teaching at various universities.
Balouch had been suffering from fever for the past few days, said photographer Akhtar Soomro, his close friend.
He underwent some tests on July 30, and doctors, while informing him about his low blood pressure, prescribed some medicines. However, he died before midnight. He is survived by a wife and three children.
Balouch started his journalism career in Mirpurkhas district, where he was born. During his studies, he became associated with the Rotary Club of Pakistan.
Later, he moved to Hyderabad, where he became associated with the HRCP. As a Hyderabad coordinator for the rights body, he campaigned for the release of peasants who had been working as bonder labour with the powerful landlords in various parts of the province.
Journalist Amar Guriro says he had known Balouch since 1999, when he used to visit the HRCP Hyderabad office. “I was a student then. I had not started journalism at that time. Balouch taught me how to report, particularly about the rights,” Guriro tells The News on Sunday.
In 2003, some unidentified people kidnapped Balouch after he left the HRCP’s annual meeting in Hyderabad with a colleague. There was a large protest demonstration that demanded his release. His abductors freed him three days later. He had been tortured.
After his release, he moved to Karachi, where he initially worked as a provincial coordinator for the HRCP. Balouch had valuable experience in conducting fact-finding missions in rights abuse cases.
Later, he joined the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), and worked there for several years.
Balouch once said that his main objective in writing about Karachi was to make its residents aware of the massive contributions of various communities, persons, historic buildings and parks in developing the city, as well as philanthropic activities, entrepreneurship, education, art, and music. “Karachi’s residents owe them a lot,” Balouch told this scribe last year.
Over the past few years, Balouch had started writing about the heritage, history, and people of Karachi. He once said that his main objective in writing about Karachi was to make its residents aware of the massive contributions of different communities, persons, historic buildings and parks in developing the city, as well as philanthropic activities, entrepreneurship, education, art, and music. “Karachi’s residents owe them a lot,” Balouch told this scribe last year.
He authored three editions of Karanchi Wala, where he wrote about some aspects of the history of Karachi and the remnants of its cosmopolitan culture, using references from rare publications, research and interviews.
The topics of some of the pieces in the book include the demystification of the Independence Day, Nishtar Park, Napier Road, old books, India in Karachi, the city’s old Eidgahs, and the fascinating hobbies of certain maharajas and nawabs.
He also researched and wrote informed pieces about vanishing Iranian restaurants founded by Zoroastrians and Baha’is – some of the earliest communities to migrate to Karachi.
In an essay on Karachi’s first elected mayor, Jamshed Nusserwanjee (1886-1952), who was also from the Parsi community, Balouch discussed his work as the city’s first elected mayor, a philanthropist, and an architect whose contributions to the city’s development earned him the title of Maker of Modern Karachi.
Novelist Mohammad Hanif wrote that Balouch had also taught us how to walk in the city. “Stop looking down, wander, ask about stranger stuff.”
In his fourth book, titled Teesri Jins (Third Sex), Balouch provided an understanding of various aspects of the life of the transgender community in Pakistan. The book was an effort by Balouch to help the readers understand the language transgender persons use and how that depicts their gender identity.
The book contains 36 pieces that touch on various subjects related to the transgender community, including their norms, values, rituals and traditions. They vary from the historical background of the community in the subcontinent, particularly in Sindh, to their daily life, religion and media interaction.
Most of the book consists of interviews with transgender people, particularly their leaders, that shed light on the challenges and problems they face in their daily lives, including their relationship with their families, the result of leaving their homes, replacement of fathers with gurus, performing traditional rituals for income, wedding and dance functions, funerals, sexual violence and rape culture.
The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher. Email: zeea.rehmangmail.com and Twitter: zalmayzia