After dancing rituals became the centre of controversy in Kohistan, the performers’ community of Banr seems to be taking a share of the spotlight. The community, which depends solely on singing and dancing for a living, has been banned by the police from performing the cultural activities in the district.
Ironically, the news comes as efforts are underway by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government to give Banr the status of a “cultural industry”.
The ban has upset the locals who would perform in houses and hujras to entertain people, said Javed Iqbal, a local singer. “We get Rs200 to Rs400 for a single music and dance performance, which is our sole source of income. If these things are stopped we will have no other option but to beg or commit suicide,” he lamented.
Another artist, Gul Wadood, who lay sick in his bed, was perturbed over the matter. “The police have besieged us in our homes,” he said. Wadood added that as a single concert earns for up to 10 families, banning such performances will render his community homeless.
The artist said that under the government of the last ruler of Swat, locals had the freedom to perform their crafts. He said that a high court legalised the activities in 1977 by giving a verdict in their favour. “However, the Taliban came and not only banned the practice but also punished those involved in it; and now the police are doing the same,” he added.
“We had guests over when the police raided our place. They disgraced our families and took us to the police station where they beat us and warned of dire consequences if we continue performing music and dance, said a wounded Mushtaq. “They tell us to sell tomato in the Grain Square instead,” he added.
The community members claim that the police have threatened to shave their women’s heads if they violate the ban. “This is exactly what the Taliban did during their regime,” added another artist, requesting anonymity.
“We are starving and have nothing to eat; if the government wants to ban our profession, it should provide us an alternate means of earning livelihood,” said Dilawar. “Unfortunately, the police are only harassing the poor community and letting the rich get away,” he added.
A performing artist, holding her medical reports and medicines, said she has to buy medicines worth Rs300 and pay Rs6,000 house rent every month. “How should I make ends meet with a ban on our profession?” she questioned. She said the government should present a solution before banning us from singing and dancing.
With similar woes, an old Rahat said that as four of her sons have died of a “mysterious” disease, her daughter supported the family through singing. She appealed to the prime minister, K-P chief minister and the Supreme Court to allow them to practice their profession.
Svastu Arts and Cultural Association Chairman Usman Ulas Yar said, “instead of banishing cultural activities, the police should improve their performance. Music and dance is part of the Pakhtun culture and peace can never prevail without them,” he said.
When contacted, Deputy Superintendant of Police Mingora Amjad Ali Khan said that they have implemented restrictions on logical grounds over cultural activities which lead towards criminal lines. Then he got furious and hung up.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2012.
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