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Pakistan: Netizens Protest Moral Policing On Art Curator

The holy month of Ramadan brings lot more than just fasting to Pakistanis – we can take the recent incident at Nairang Gallery, Lahore, as an example. A few days ago, a Station House Officer (SHO) together with other policemen stormed into the Nairang Art Gallery in Lahore.

The raid was carried out on the pretext that the female curator of the gallery wore a sleeveless shirt and was intermingling with other men, something quite contrary to the views held by the conservatives here and thus bordering on obscenity.

As soon as the issue came to light, the Pakistani online sphere was fraught with condemnatory posts and tweets. Disgusted and appalled at such brazen violation of human rights by a law-enforcement officer, demands were made to take action against him so that no further incidents like these occur. Human Rights Commission Pakistan has also expressed serious concern over the incident and demanded that immediate action be taken against the offender.

Expressing her horror at the fact that some media outlets were more concerned about the curator’s outfit than the issue of harassment, Meera Ghani writes at Pak Tea House:

People choose to over look the fact that these women were illegally beaten by a policeman instead they choose to focus on what they wore and whether their dress and behavior was Islamic or not. And because of that their assault becomes justified even though they had done nothing wrong.

Amir Qureshi, writing at Let us Build Pakistan, equates the act to the moral policing of the Taliban:

Through implicit support of the state, our police force has turned into the Pakistan’s version of Taliban’s notorious Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. It’s reminiscent of the secret video released by the Afghan women’s right groups of a Taliban member beating up a burqa-clad woman on the street because her ankles were showing.”

Commenting on the relatively muted response from the mainstream media over the issue, Amir fleetingly refers to the root cause of such state-sponsored moral-enforcement – General Zia’s policies:

In the ensuing years after the end of Zia’s regime, successive governments reinforced the Islamized national narrative, embedding it firmly in the image Pakistan has of itself.

So when a police officer raided an art gallery and assaulted its staff –accusing them of ‘fahashi’ – there was minimal outrage.

Mr. Nayyar Ali Dada, owner of the gallery and father to Amir Ali Dada who was arrested and taken to police station during the raid, addresses Chief Minister Punjab and Inspector General Police Punjab in a letter at Lahorenama. Citing his constitutional rights as a citizen of Pakistan and their clear breach by a police officer, he writes:

Your honour, facts narrated below will prove and show, that how our fundamental rights Article 14 (Right to dignity), Article 9 (Right to life), Article 18 (Right to trade/business) conferred by the Constitution have been infringed and violated by a Police Officer by taking the law in his own hands without following the law, PPC and the Police Order 2002.”

Narrating the series of events as they took place, Mr. Nayyar then goes on to request action against the culprit,

In view of the above, I request the Honorable Chief Minister and the IGP to take action against the SHO under the Section 155 of the Police Order, 2002 and to initiate proceedings committing a misconduct under the Punjab Employees Efficiency, Discipline and Accountability Act, 2006.”

Whereas no response from the government has ensued regarding the issue, the artists and civil society continue to demand an inquiry into the matter, registering their discontent through protests. Shared rapidly and posted at a number of blogs, the invitation to the demonstrations, which are being held at Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, states:

Artists, art critics and gallerists and civil society members will demonstrate in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad on August 13, 2011 (details below) to show solidarity with Nairang Gallery, Lahore, which was attacked on August 2, 2011 and register their protest against the reprehensible behavior of the police. They will demand a public apology by SHO Rana Zulfiqar and his dismissal from the police force for beating the curator and staff of Nairang Gallery. All concerned citizens must unite to stop police violence against citizens.

There is little hope that serious action will be taken against the police official, given that they have a record of getting away with lot more than this in Pakistan. However, the strong condemnation by Pakistan’s online community and the civil society is an affirmation of the conviction that freedom of speech and expression, be that of art or literature, will be guarded ardently. And those attempting to suppress it under the cover of moral policing will face resistance if they continue their exploits.

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