Over time, the darkness tends to fade. We forget the terrible events in our lives, in our countries, in the whole world – at least to some extent. But as has been said for the Holocaust, the horrors of that time can perhaps be forgiven but should never be forgotten.
The same goes for the era of General Muhmmad Ziaul Haq in our country, from 1977 to 1988. There seems to be a new trend on social media to paint Zia and her actions in much lighter tones than can be. to be accepted. However, the story should not be changed. Even today, the impact of the laws introduced under this regime haunt us, including the Hudood Ordinance, the Qisas and Diyat Law and others that affect people all over the country.
The era may have seen a degree of economic prosperity brought mainly by money flowing in to support the Afghan war against the Soviets. But beyond that, and beyond the few who thrived on this wealth, the women who appeared on television to read the news were forced to wear dupattas on their heads, causing a distinct change from the news. in the past. In other respects, too, society has been changed. Dancing, an integral part of life on the subcontinent and widely acceptable until that age, has been declared indecent, un-Islamic, and wiped out from television and public stages. Dancers of the caliber of Maestro Kathak Naheed Siddiqui were forced abroad.
The loss remains. Even today, dance, especially female dance, is considered by many to be immoral and in some circles totally unacceptable. Schools that offer dance lessons to girls often face complaints from parents about their children’s bribery. The beauty of dance, the aesthetics of a high level performance and the part it took in our culture have been forgotten.
Vloggers who appear on social media channels arguing that pop music flourished under Zia may have forgotten that the lyrics of singers such as Pakistan’s first pop idol, Alamgir, of Bengali descent, have been censored. before being broadcast on PTV or Radio Pakistan. The word ‘nasha’, or intoxication, has been deleted. Other singers came under similar scrutiny, with sister and brother duo Nazia and Zoheb Hassan having to apply for special permission to appear on television together and during this time people forgot that “raag” did it’s not foreign or from a different culture – it’s really a part of our own heritage. The same goes for instrumental music, whether it is played on the sitar, sarangi or tabla. Replacing that heritage with Arab culture simply created a more confused and confrontational society that lost its identity and never really found it after the Zia era.
We must also see things in a larger context. Yes, maybe it catches the eye to paint a glorified image of Zia. But can we really do this when we remember the bodies hanged on Ferozepur Road in Lahore for hours to âteach people a lessonâ? The flogging that took place and the scars of these tortures that still remain on the bodies of journalists, activists and others who continue to work today? Can we forget the change in school curricula and the removal of poets from the status of Faiz Ahmed Faiz from school textbooks? And should we even try to forget the way in which this deliberate modification of social norms has been transmitted through the ages and generations?
The One National Curriculum, for example, prohibits the use of any figurative representation of the human body to show anatomy. Even the animals are hardly acceptable in terms of illustration. And of course, aspects of science fundamental to understanding life on Earth, like evolution, have completely disappeared from the books, leaving school children with a censored and limited view of the world.
Journalists who were active at the time will remember the fear, mistrust and handicaps that existed everywhere with censorship boards removing stories from the pages of newspapers and a new sense of danger plaguing society where plays denouncing the horrors of the time and how a state of decay had been secretly created in private gardens for a small audience, as public cultural performances became increasingly limited. That was the truth then. The reality was felt in schools, in the streets, in offices where prayer was made compulsory and a new hypocrisy about religion introduced everywhere.
While after Zia there were changes, openings of small doors and slit-shaped windows, the problems continue. An example comes from the concert or ‘rave’ organized in Hunza by a private group. While the group says the residents of Hunza were consulted prior to this event, there was a fierce attack directed against it by a Western-born social media influencer who has spent years in northern Pakistan. The volume of attacks, however, raises questions of its own. A certain balance must be found; some reflection on these events. After all, people, no matter where they live, cannot be deprived of exposure to a new era and change.
Why don’t the young people of Hunza listen to rock music? There is no constraint for them to don the habit of performers or the public who have gathered there. Already, Hunza is changing, with Anita Karim from the region standing out as a mixed martial arts athlete with a national and international reputation. She wears the habit of all other athletes in her area of ââexpertise. Young skaters brought the art of ice dancing to places like Hunza. What’s the harm in that?
We must come out of the darkness of the Zia era and seek the light. It’s difficult at a time when the crackdown continues and the peculiar idea that keeping people in the dark is somehow commendable persists. But everywhere, people need choice. We have seen young people, including girls from our northern regions, move around the world and experience the change that comes with travel, education and awakening.
Oxford graduate Malala Yousafzai is one example. The same goes for Maria Toorpakai, who did everything to become an internationally renowned squash player despite the obstacles she faced in her native Waziristan. There are other examples. They bring light, and that light must be extended until it fills the country and shines everywhere, from the slums of Karachi to villages and hamlets in the most remote parts of the country.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.
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