Tag Archives: blasphemy

Dateline Liberty Chowk Lahore

This article was originally posted on The Nation

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By Marvi Sirmed

If you want to commit suicide, all you have to do is defend a persecuted non-Muslim in a case of alleged blasphemy. The slain Governor of the Punjab decided to stand up for the rights of a downtrodden woman from the persecuted Christian community booked under a case of purported blasphemy. He became liable to be killed.
So told us scores of Barelvi (and some Shia) ‘muftis’ and a TV anchor-lady back in 2009. Taking an informed and brave decision, Taseer chose to go ahead with the cause. Result: he lost his life, left us in obscurity to deal with the madness, the killer became a hero and a large chunk of media and so called intelligentsia busied themselves in justifying what was a brutal broad day-light murder.
Remembering him, and remembering him with reverence has been an act of resistance ever since his guard assassinated him in 2011. Like every year, this year too we planned to hold a quiet vigil in his remembrance and to pay tribute to his struggle on the day of his martyrdom. Already in Lahore for a personal trip, I thought to join fellow activists here while requesting comrades to hold similar events in Karachi and Islamabad.
We were able to pull off tribute-vigils in Mirphur Khas, Multan, Bahawalpur, Larkana and Hyderabad in addition to Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore. Everywhere they went well with small chunks of progressive citizenry who have always afforded threats to their lives while standing up for the rights of weaker communities and for democracy and justice. The vigils went smoothly everywhere, even in the restive and unpredictable Karachi. Lahore became the odd-man-out. Continue reading

Iqbal Hussain: The agony and the ecstasy

DSC_1540 copy WITHOUT RIGHTSIqbal Hussain’s new work reveals a darkly poignant preoccupation with death, an artistic crisis born of the violence in our midst. But this work may yet survive the changing cultural topography of Pakistan, says Raza Rumi

Being stuck in an awful traffic jam on Lahore’s Mall Road is an everlasting nightmare. This was the road which once housed the tempestuous and famously poly-amorous painter Amrita Shergil, as well as the grand old man of Indian writing in English, the legendary Khushwant Sigh, among other lost symbols of our bygone past. But mine was not a fruitless journey: I was heading to the Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery at the National College of Arts (NCA), where Iqbal Hussain’s new work was being displayed. I would not hav e gone to see this exhibition had I not heard about the significance of the show from the proficient curator of the gallery Qudsia Raheem. I liked to meet Iqbal Hussain in the throes of the walled city where he has reinvented a space for himself among his own people — entertainers, artists, traders, sex workers and a multitude of local and global visitors. Iqbal Hussain has been successful through his personal endeavors to put Lahore’s old city and its infamous red light district on the world map. He has achieved this primarily through his stupendous paintings and sublime rooftop views of Mughal monuments from the Cooco’s Den Café he owns and manages.

DSC_1510 copy WITHOUT RIGHTSIqbal Hussain’s work over the decades has brought to life the shades and aspects of sex workers from Heera Mandi around whom Hussain grew up. Most importantly, he is proud of his heritage and origins and, unlike the hypocritical and self-denying society in which he lives, he has publicly claimed ownership of this background. His work has obsessively captured the many narratives about the women who are central to Heera Mandi. In doing this, Hussain has humanized the portraits of the “dancing girl”, the aging prostitute and the honorable livelihood earner. Contrary to the religious decrees on such women, or the excessive romanticization of dancing girls in our culture, Hussain’s subjects are nothing but human. They are real and vulnerable while blessed with the ability to sing, dance and celebrate life and sex. In our socially conservative culture, made even more so since the advent of Victorian values in what was then British India, such characters have been the recipients of much derision. Hussain, through his momentous collection of paintings, has countered every stereotype and cliché that comes to mind about such women. Continue reading