Public spaces: Named after a freedom fighter but in shackles, Peshawar’s Nishtar Hall

The city’s only space for cultural works was shut down during MMA’s govt.

Hidayat Khan July 31, 2014


The city’s one cultural centre—that too named after a freedom fighter—stood as a memory of all Peshawar has lost this Eid instead of being the focus of celebrations.

Nishtar Hall was built in 1985 to accommodate up to 600 people and it was named after Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar (1899-1958), a freedom fighter who played an important part in history before and after Independence when it came to organising the people of the Frontier.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of religio-political parties,  is blamed for closing it down and removing artistes from the famous Dabgari neighbourhood, where they had performed for decades. It was reopened during the Awami National Party’s rule.

Instead, it is at Shahi Bagh where thousands of people gathered to watch some CD drama producers put on stage performances and awkward dances. “It is unfortunate that no positive cultural activities have been planned by the government this Eid too,” said Zardad Bulbul, a famous comedian. With Nishtar Hall not frequently in use, performers like him have no choice but to turn to Shahi Bagh where stages have been set up under tents.

Several other artistes felt that it just wasn’t safe enough to organise performances at the hall. “A busy city like Peshawar has been completely changed,” said a young man called Akbar Khan who turned up to catch some fun. “People have either left for other cities or never bother to get out as there is nothing left to offer in the city.”

Given that artistes have been marginalised, and there is no culture of theatre or holding performances on a regular basis, no cultural economy has been allowed to survive and take root. This is why perhaps only the government can arrange such events and pay for them too. It also falls on the government’s shoulders to support the community as several artistes have fallen on hard times, especially when it comes to healthcare. Some of their names are Fazli Subhan Abid, Naeem Khan and Khyal Muhammad who are quite ill.

For whatever it is worth, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf managed to arrange one small cultural programme in which well-respected artistes of the province were given awards. But even this event was not arranged at Nishtar Hall, which perhaps was the best possible venue.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2014.