An activist by fate: The incredible story of Sammi Deen Baloch

An activist by fate: The incredible story of Sammi Deen Baloch

For some people, activism is optional. For Sammi, it isn’t.
Updated 11 Mar, 2024

For some people, activism is optional. For Sammi Deen Baloch, it isn’t. Her father was abducted when she was 10 years old, and since then, she’s marched from Quetta to Islamabad, protested in frigid weather, repeatedly challenged the state and put her safety secondary to her cause countless times, all so she can close a chapter in her life she didn’t choose to write.

Anyone who has shared her fate knows Sammi Deen Baloch as a household name —she’s been a beacon of hope in their darkest hour.

She recently took centre stage when the plight of enforced disappearances finally became a part of the national discourse as hundreds of Baloch women marched to Islamabad to protest the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Pakistan.

It is difficult to believe that at just 25 years of age, Sammi has become a beacon of raising one’s voice against the unimaginable tragedy of losing loved ones to enforced disappearances, caught up in an endless cycle of protesting the violence against her people and being threatened into oblivion.

Clearly, no amount of threats has silenced her; if anything, she has emerged stronger, louder, and more fierce.

Well-thought-out words and fiery interviews may never do justice to describing who she is. One needs to see her in her element as an activist, a true paladin, to understand her tragic brilliance. Simply put, when Balochistan has plunged into darkness and despair, Sammi has been the light.

If circumstances hadn’t brought her to this junction, Sammi might have been an ordinary girl who never left her village. Her activism was born from the death of any sense of normalcy her family had, which, she gradually learned, was the tragic reality of hundreds of Baloch families.

“That’s when I knew I had to play this role, not just for myself but for them as well,” she told me.

For years now, she’s counselled these families on how to protest in the streets, which lawyers to contact and made them aware of the rights they’ve been denied.

Her selflessness comes from recalling the cluelessness and isolation of navigating activism at the tender age of 11; bus rides alone from Karachi to Quetta, where her court cases to locate her father were being heard; harassment and awkward stares, people shunning her mother for going against the grain.

As her fearlessness increased, so did the threats to her safety and what she said were attempts at hacking her phone. And this is in addition to the mental torture she’s had to endure for more than half her life.

“The way I’ve suffered, I don’t want other families to go through the same ordeal,” she said. “I want to show them how to resist.”

Enduring a living death

Sammi has always been vociferous in maintaining that women’s rights are central in the conversation surrounding enforced disappearances, a painstaking reality she knows all too well.

“If you want to make a woman endure a living death, kidnap someone from her household. I have lived it firsthand. My smartness, my creativity level, everything vanished when my father was kidnapped.”

Women bear the brunt of enforced disappearances when the men in their household are abducted, losing their source of income and sense of stability.

“They’ve taken away a husband from his wife, a son from the parents, a father from his children. Father, son, brother — these aren’t just words, there’s so much more tied to them. The memories, the remembrances, the cravings, the needs, the love — it’s all tied together. And it’s all taken away from us.”

She is particularly vocal about Baloch women’s lack of rights, which they are often unaware of as a result of being deprived of an education and basic resources.

Sammi has championed women’s rights for as long as she’s been vocal about enforced disappearances, and she’s grateful for the support lent by local women’s rights organisations.

It is the silence from their international counterparts she finds questionable.

“People talk about women’s rights all the time, do research studies, bag awards for their work. And yet, we haven’t seen any international organisations come to Balochistan and do research here,” Sammi said.

Balochistan has one of the highest maternal death rates, and the highest rate of children out of school. Hundreds of Baloch women are forcibly displaced, their children missing, Sammi laments, and yet international women’s rights organisations have not brought these issues to attention.

“The people of Balochistan are also human, please think of them as human too.”

She doesn’t believe in championing one cause over the other; she only wants that they don’t turn a blind eye to the plight of Baloch women. If anything, she’s repeatedly invited them to Balochistan to get a better sense of ground realities.

Activism is a full-time job for Sammi, and the march to Islamabad might have been her most powerful message on the plight of enforced disappearances.

She was at the forefront of the march to Islamabad, alongside Dr Mahrang Baloch, — one of the most critical voices on the rights of Baloch people and enforced disappearances — and other leaders of the Baloch Yakjehti Committee. The weeks-long journey was braved by around 100 families of missing persons, as well as 80 women and 120 men, Sammi said.

The march began from Turbat on December 6, 2023 and reached Islamabad on the 20, where they were met with police brutality and were barred from entering the capital.

Undeterred by the violence, they staged a sit-in outside the National Press Club and produced their demands, ultimately calling off the sit-in on January 23 after their pleas fell on deaf ears.

Despite a disappointing but characteristic response from the state, Mahrang and Sammi returned to Quetta to a hero’s welcome.

“The support we got from the people of Balochistan after our march was completely unexpected and totally overwhelming,” Sammi told me with pride.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

The mindset shift was years in the making, thanks to Sammi braving violence, and possibly worse, to campaign door-to-door convincing families to protest the abduction of their loved ones.

Her brazen activism was taboo in her conservative village, Mushkel, starting off as a solitary exercise since others were too fearful to join her. She’s had to think twice — or 20 times, as she’s said — before visiting someone’s house, wary of endangering them lest they get harassed by officials.

Now, several families across Balochistan have mirrored her fearlessness. Just recently, she told me, three families in Makran blocked the roads to protest the abduction of their sons, and within a matter of days recovered them.

And the people of Balochistan have made their appreciation for Sammi and Mahrang widely known, writing songs and poetry about them, and even embroidering their names on kashidas.

“That initial mindset of people ignoring us, thinking we’re doing something bad, that’s gone. They now appreciate us tremendously, and that, for me, is one of my biggest achievements,” she said.

“Perhaps I’ve been waiting for this for the longest time, that my own people recognise me.”

‘Resilience is in our blood’

Sammi has gracefully embodied the Baloch women she grew up admiring. “Resilience is in our blood,” she told me, proud of her ancestry.

In Balochistan’s history, women have been the strength of their brothers, taking up arms alongside them when needed, she explained.

“This is what strengthens me, that we’ve been taught to resist, and our families support us in this. We were raised to know that resistance is in our blood. That if you’ve been wronged, you need to stand up for yourself.

“We don’t want freedom from our men, we want freedom for our men,” she said.

Baloch women have been deprived of an education and basic resources, but not their resilience. They marched into battle when they marched to Islamabad last year, quietly enough to catch the enemy by surprise, and left loud enough to get the message across clearly; they are not backing down.

Many would call it melodramatic to liken this to a battle, but it is important to remember that it was the state who literally fought them in the capital, unleashing water cannons and tear gas, and threatening to ‘deport’ them back to Balochistan. How one can be deported within their own country is paradoxical and merely a testament to the notion that Balochistan is considered a lesser entity.

Whether the state truly heard their message, Sammi does not know. What she does know is that they did their best to put their message out there.

“We completely rewrote the narrative they’ve held against Baloch people, that we’re ‘terrorists’ who want to be separate from Pakistan.

“We’ve exposed all the state’s operations in Balochistan,” she said, albeit admitting her anticipation of backlash and threats from the state.

Such is her brilliance that to call her a national icon is controversial. The state has long maintained she is a terrorist and a traitor. But who gets the honour of being a hero and the shame of being a traitor is a trademark of the tools used to suppress resistance over the course of Pakistan’s history.

Sammi’s journey is a long one.

The resistance will continue — “till the state doesn’t paralyse us” — because being silenced is not an option. She will not accept that this was the fate of her people.

“Activism can exist without us, but we can’t exist without activism,” was her hearty response when I asked about future plans.

She recalls incidents from her childhood that hinted at her future as an activist. When she was around 11 years old, and her school teachers repeatedly didn’t show up to school, she rounded up all the students and protested against the teachers’ absence in the village. Even at that young age, she knew that children needed to get an education, and know about their rights.

“Now, I know exactly what I’m doing. But back then, it was unconscious resistance.”

Her only message to the state is to end illegal abductions. The intersectionality of enforced disappearances and women’s rights is her biggest advocacy, which is why she’s an incredible feminist trailblazer.

She’s also called on the government to fulfill its responsibility of educating women in Balochistan. “Change will not happen until you make the people conscious of what’s happening and educate them,” she said.

Much work remains to be done for women in Balochistan. The lack of basic hospitals compels pregnant women to travel to cities ahead of their delivery, and several die on the way there. Sammi has stressed the need for Baloch women to know their rights, and the need for institutions who can provide this.

It felt sacrilegious to ask Sammi whether the thought of giving up the fight ever occurs to her. And it does, she replied, every day.

“Every night when we go to sleep, we think there’s no hope, that we’re doing all this in vain. That after 15 years of struggling, I don’t know if I should count my father as dead or alive.”

But just like that, she sleeps off the hopelessness and wakes up strengthened for the long battle ahead, “because there’s more resistance to be put up and more work to be done.”

An ordinary person might never have the willpower to carry on the way she does. But she’s not an ordinary person; the ability to be ordinary was snatched from her years ago. Today, she is beyond extraordinary, because she is Sammi.

This March, Images is profiling trailblazing women who are, in their own ways big or small, stirring change in our society. Women who inspire us and women who make us proud. You can read all our stories on inspiring Pakistani women here.

Trailblazers and change makers


A.M. Khawar Mar 11, 2024 05:45pm
Thank you for publishing the courageous resolve of one young woman for her rights and rights of all Baloch women A very moving story of bravery and determination. I am touched!
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GettingThere Mar 11, 2024 06:15pm
What an inspiring personality and so sad that horrible things like this happen in this day and age..
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fazal Mar 11, 2024 06:32pm
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Mahboob Ur Rehaman Mar 11, 2024 07:00pm
Thank you DAWN, for publishing the story of this young lady, who is the symbol of resistance against state attrocities.
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Iqbal Hussain Mar 11, 2024 07:10pm
A profile in courage. An inspirational figure for all Pakistanis in the fight against oppression and injustice. I salute her for her principled stand and wish her every success in her struggle.
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Saifullah pirkani Mar 11, 2024 08:10pm
Great work to highlight the oppressed strata of Pakistani society. She is a role model for the rest of the girls who have a great goal in their lives.
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Taj Ahmad Mar 11, 2024 08:26pm
Great pretty lady, I wish her all success in future.
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Taj Ahmad Mar 11, 2024 08:29pm
I wish her to be 2nd next woman Prime Minister of Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto. Very brave lady.
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dr abdul malik Mar 11, 2024 09:02pm
These brave women deserve our strongest support in their struggle. Not to do so is to escape one's moral calling.
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sajid naeem Mar 12, 2024 08:38am
Blouch women have really set a role model for the oppressed one of this country. Sammi and Mahrang are undisputed stars of this heroic struggle. above all , the method of political struggle instead of armed struggle, speaks volumes about their creativity and ingenuity. Long live the struggle of the blouch oppressed
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MBA Mar 12, 2024 10:08am
I hope many Pakistanis would read it and try to understand root cause of problems in Baluchistan.
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Hamal Baloch Mar 12, 2024 01:00pm
Brave lady of balochistan Sammi
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Myra Mar 12, 2024 05:50pm
A very well written articulated piece!
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Mahnoor Hassan Mar 12, 2024 11:23pm
Wow! What an inspirational and courageous lady The ture lady of Pakistan Well-done
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Talat Mar 13, 2024 11:58pm
Now we have to realize treating other provinces and people rights.Raising voice for missing people is the rights of the families .
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Urooj Mar 14, 2024 08:36pm
We live for days or years, anyone can do so, but only Character like Sammi deserves to live forever... Woman like her proof that what kinda rights we want... Red Salute Comrade..
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