By Amina Omar
“Someone’s got to do it,” were the words of Sabeen Mahmud as she led the discussion ‘Unsilencing Balochistan’ alongside renowned Baloch activists in April 2015. She committed herself to the cause despite warnings against public involvement with the Balochistan movement, and other social causes. Sabeen eventually paid for her defiance with her life. On her way home from the conference on 24 April, she and her mother, Mahenaz Mahmud, were shot by unnamed gunmen. Mahenaz survived, but Sabeen did not and yet her legacy as a social activist lives on. Four years later, a documentary recording her life and memory was screened at LUMS. Dr. Nida Kirmani, a professor of Sociology at LUMS, confirmed that that the fated event was to be held on campus initially but was cancelled, and held in Karachi instead. LUMS has since honoured its connection with Sabeen through numerous remembrances held in her memory.
If the film and Sabeen’s life can be summed in a few words, they would be “‘resilience in the face of adversity,” as provided by Mahenaz. Her bravery was such an intrinsic part of her identity that it lives on in those who survive her. A maintenance worker at T2F (the café and public space founded by Sabeen for the promotion of political and artistic discourse) claimed that Sabeen had taught him “the meaning of life.” He stayed on after her death despite attempts by his family to persuade him to seek a safer workplace. Sabeen’s friends have continued running T2F after her passing in recognition of its significance to the sociopolitical landscape of Karachi.
The film, ‘After Sabeen,’ is an attempt by Iranian filmmaker, Schokofeh Kamiz to paint the memory of Sabeen and the gaping hole that her death left behind. When asked why she chose to pursue the film, Kamiz stated that she had been “drawn in by her [Sabeen’s] strength.
“She [Sabeen] was something different to everyone…I keep learning about her,” said Mahenaz Mahmud, soaking in the different ways in which her daughter had changed the lives of others. Mahenaz herself took on somewhat of a revolutionary position after her daughter’s passing. In offering advice to a panel member, she embraced her role in shaping and nurturing her daughter’s resilient and daring nature. “I know what it was like to grow up fearing the world because of how I was raised, and I didn’t want to put her through the same,” offered Mahenaz.
When approached for a comment after the session about the role that youth can play in furthering Sabeen’s spirit, her words implored everyone to “find the strength within. You have to drown out the voices that hold you back,” she said, “We all have that strength, all of us do,” she promised, insisting that her and Sabeen’s exemplary courage was not unmatched.
Dr. Kirmani confirmed that the film has also been shown in Berlin with potential screenings to follow in Nepal and Canada.
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