Dancing in Lahore

‘Lahore is a city that has to fight for its cultural survival. The growing influence of the Taliban, although hundreds of kilometres to the north-west, has been mirrored by a more insidious, creeping attack on culture throughout the country. On Jan 2, the bullet-ridden body of Shabana Gul, a dancing girl, was dumped in the centre of Mingora, the north-western district of Swat’s main town.But the growing cultural conservatism has had more subtle reverberations.In December, Lahore’s High Court barred the graceful and elaborate dancing girls, who first developed in the Moghal courts 400 years ago, from performing in public, on the grounds that they were too sexually explicit.

 A group of theatre owners challenged the ban, which forbade the girls to dance barefoot and ordered them to cover their heads and shoulders, and won an appeal in court in March.A cultural promoter, said the ban on dance – known as the mujra, and which officials attempted to ban during the 1980s – is a symptom of a more dangerous trend in Pakistani society.“If the government engages in moral policing, it gives vigilantes licence to do the same. It fuels intolerance and de-secularisation by violence and intimidation and opens the door to extreme jihadi Islamic movements,” he said. In March, the High Court barred two female singers from recording new albums after ruling that they sang sexually explicit lyrics’.

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