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Reflection on the Representation of Balouch Justice-seeking Mothers: The Binary of the Bereaved Mother and the Justice-seeking Mother

A Reflection on the Representation of Balouch Justice-seeking Mothers: The Binary of the Bereaved Mother and the Justice-seeking Mother

Last year was swift and inspiring. The aftermath of the Jina Uprising altered the discourses and the political sphere [of Iran]. There was loss after loss, grief after grief. The deceased turned into numbers, becoming numerous; and the death of those whose unknown lives were deemed unworthy echoed in a familiar manner, evoking a common understanding: oppressed, poor, and voiceless. Not acknowledging the politics of grief as advocacy, the marginalizing system of representation regards advocates as merely the bereaved. If Senobar’s[1] image went viral, it was solely due to her representation as a bereaved mother, who mourns the loss of her son, and not because of her politics of grief. The marginalizing representation system was deeply immersed in its own understanding that despite weeks of resistance and solidarity building of Balouch, it only sat watching their grief and mourning, in a way that conformed to its own understanding as if mourning and justice-seeking are separate paths and the bereaved cannot be advocates.

We aim to address the binary of mourning and justice-seeking and the need to understand them as a whole.

Is Senobar Balouchestan?
[Does Senobar embody Balouchestan?]

Jina Uprising put Balouch in the forefront of the movement. The collective memory brought forward what had been excluded from the written history of Balouchestan. Memory was restored to the Balouch and granted a new meaning to their lives as a sociopolitical matter. The Balouch reclaimed years of suffering, and young adolescents took up the cause as well despite their age. In addition to the public presence of these advocates, it is the presence of the mothers of those killed in Balouchestan, who, like other justice-seeking mothers, have come forward throughout Iran. However, it seems that the understanding of this presence is distant and hierarchical, one which determines how such presence needs to occur.

Almost seven months after the Jina Uprising, justice-seeking in Balouchestan is still stereotypically represented. Here in Dasgoharan, we have always praised advocacy as one of the achievements of Jina and Mahoo Uprising and noted the centralist and marginalizing approach of the rigid system of representation, wherein pain and suffering are normalized, and misrepresentation remains unchanged.

Senobar is not represented as a justice-seeking mother, she is merely misrepresented as a mourner. She is not on Twitter or Instagram, does not know how to speak Farsi, and has no access to media. How she is represented perpetuates the stereotype of Balouch women: a mother who mourns and grieves. What circulates on the media and goes viral are the donations to her, along with her withdrawal as she grieves the death of her son.  What is absent from the media is her resistance along other mothers. The logic of social media dictates a specific approach when it comes to advocacy and justice-seeking and Senobar does not fit in this logic. This logic leads to a certain way of representation within which all Balouch justice-seekers including Senobar, fall prey to the pre-assumed structures, given that the severity of oppression and marginality are not acknowledged. In such an encounter, Senobar is not considered a citizen either. She is a mother whose son was chained to a bar; she is a bereaved mother.

We do not know anything about her life, and we would not know, for we cannot comprehend her advocacy. We did not know about Khodanour either, except for the [online footage showing him] dancing and the ghastly and frightening image of him chained to a bar. No one knows why Senobar lives in one of the many marginalized, unsafe, and squalid neighborhoods. Apparently, it suffices to know that she lives far away, off the beaten track where it is scary and strange. If Senobar is referred to, it is only to remember Balouch as utterly miserable. She is remembered with the key phrase, “Senobar is Balouchestan” and she and other justice-seeking mothers’ advocacy and resistance are reduced to a representation of despair, misery, and victimhood.

But what does this system of representation signify? Can we not find, behind all the statements of this system, a desire for a “pure understanding” of the situation of Balouch, while simultaneously controlling their practices and actions as they mediate these meanings? This mode of representation is primarily engaged in the construction of a binary narrative of “victimhood” versus “resistance” and constantly seeks to classify the efforts and struggles of the marginalized in the former category. Why is the manifested Balouchestan in her limited to silence and victimhood? Does mere reference to “being Balouchestan” speak of any pure qualities of speech that converge in Senobar and can be understood by referring to her as having understood Balouchestan? Senobar becomes synonymous with Balouchestan and a perfect symbol of victimhood. However, if Senobar is Balouchestan, then why do we not approach it like a narrator and advocate for the bloody oppressions?

The Advocate/Mourner Binary

The dominant representation system understands Senobar who was more than anything a mother of a rebellious child, through her mourning. But which justice-seeking mother has not shed tears? Do not advocacy and grief cross paths? Is it not true that it is this suffering and loss that brings the mourner to the battlefield against forgetfulness? Why does the dominant representation system insist on creating a division between grieving and advocacy? Why is a Balouch woman only referred to as a mourner and not an advocate?

The coercive representation system, with its naturalizing and invisible role, edits and subtitles its favorable pieces of Senobar. What else does it know about her? Nothing. It spreads Senobar’s sobbing in an orientalist and touristic manner. Everyone is eagerly looking for any piece of news from Senobar to cover her story as a victim. Senobar serves as a homogenous entity representing the Balouch or Balouch women, despite her class, caste, and lived experience. Her justice-oriented words are silenced amidst the political and historical sentences. In this representation economy that is prevalent on social media, concepts are redefined and altered to favor the dominant and centralist discourse. The concept of grief stands against advocacy and those with different languages are categorized as mere mourners given their different approaches to advocacy. It is as if seeking justice for a Balouch mother has prerequisites that she has yet to achieve. This dualistic and binary order, with such interpretations, abdicates the responsibility to hear [Balouch’s] advocacy.

However, the sphere of advocacy is the sphere of reclaiming memories, a battlefield for life that rebels against necropolitics and oblivion. As Senobar presses the picture of Khodanour against her chest and speaks of longing for him at the table while sharing Khodanour’s smile and his zest for life, she advocates for his life and soul. Like a symbol, she fights the lexicon and the dominant discourse and creates her own vocabulary regarding advocacy. Even though this language is specific to her, it is not disconnected from other advocates in different geographies. While the language continues to speak of the burning and the refusal of normal life, it has simultaneously come to the fore to desire life and seek justice for the lost lives. Can the justice-seeking movement be understood in the absence of this language? Are not grief and advocacy – not the politics of “either this or that” – a cohesive whole that interconnects with each other?

While mourning the tragic death of her son, Senobar, along with other mothers repeats a fundamental and poignant statement everyday: I burn from the absence of Khodanour. What could be more precise than this sentence, and what more important sign than the pictures [of their sons] in the hands of these mothers could display the bond of grieving and advocacy? While mourning, they bear witness to history: Look at these photos, our children were our souls and until the day of justice, we are their mourners and their advocates.  


[1] Senobar is Khodanour Lojei’s mother. Khodanour was killed in October 2022 during the protests in Zahedan. His image with his hands tied to a pole went viral. The image shows him in torment as there is a water bottle out of his reach.

Senobar holding the photo of her son, Khodanour, close to her heart