Ghazala Javed – Image taken from YouTube video grab
Ghazala Javed – Image taken from YouTube video grab

A little over two months ago, news of a popular Pashtun female singer’s death streamed local and global media, fuelled by rumours of the Taliban’s involvement in her murder. Ghazala Javed, 24, and her father were shot dead on June 18, in Peshawar’s Dabagari Garden area.

“She was shot six times by gunmen as she left a beauty salon,” said a police officer working on the case. These shots were not fired by the Taliban. The police claim that her ex-husband, who had remarried and would force his first wife to quit singing, was the prime suspect and was hence arrested last week. Her sister, who filed the FIR said, “When Ghazala found out that he had a second wife, she asked for a divorce. This really annoyed him as it is against family honour for a husband to be asked to leave.” Although Javed’s family did not specify their suspect, local police claimed her ex-husband’s involvement with much confidence.

According to her cousin Wajid Omer, who plays harmonium in Peshawar, “She was killed by unidentified men. There were two bikes, and four men and they opened fire when she was leaving the salon. Since her father was also there he got targeted too. Both got hit and killed then and there.”  Ghazala’s sister was admitted in to a local hospital for several days due to trauma.  Cousin Wajid explained, “She couldn’t take the pain of two funerals in the house.”

Ghazala’s death has raised several questions about the law and order condition in KPK, the government’s responsibility in dealing with the issue of security and the threat of extremism, all of which squeezes the margin of survival of musicians and artists in the area.

Ghazala who originally hailed from the Banrr village in Swat, which fell to Taliban rule in 2007, had fled to pursue her music career away from their tyrannical insolence and continued to sing in Peshawar, 170 kilometres away from her hometown.

She enjoyed tremendous following in the region, not just among boys and girls but middle-aged and elderly locals as well. She sang of youthful love and desire, mostly self-written.  The threats she faced from the Taliban were easily countered by the respect she enjoyed from her progressive ethnic Pashtun fans, both for her music and her boldness. Ghazala would travel to Dubai for her recordings, in order to keep the music-related activity to a minimum in the Taliban-threatened region.

One of her seniors in the music industry, who does not want to be named said, “Ghazala Javed was a remarkably talented young lady. When she entered the music industry, she instantly developed a fan following, not just in Peshawar, but across Pakistan.”

Perhaps it was her beauty that initially attracted most listeners, but her fans kept growing in the region for her angelic voice and the sense of ethnic music. She defied the Taliban and continued to take on whatever problems came with it. “As a musician I know that is not easy, not something I will be able to keep up with,” said the musician.

“Her death has shocked me so gravely, I can’t seem to come to terms with it months later” added her fellow. “The irony is when the government and human rights organisation can’t seem to take any action against such killings.”

Even though Ghazala was not killed by the Taliban, but the constant threats she received have overshadowed the plot. She was that quintessential inspiration for an artist in KPK and her tragic murder will have a pronounced impact on the careers of young singers. Especially the female singers who want to pursue their career in music, in the deeply orthodox society of KPK.

One of Ghazala’s fans and recent students, Anila says that she might not have the courage to sing after loosing her mentor and teacher to an unknown death. “It shocked me, it made me cry, but it also made me fear in the wonder, if I will be able to have a safe career if I pursue the things my mentor taught me.

“They talk about freedom of expression. What is it? Freedom of expression does not necessarily come with writing or activism. To me, singing is my freedom. And that I don’t have. But I have decided to certainly try to pursue what I am passionate about.”

Most other female singers in the area did not express their pain openly as they felt the fear of a backlash. A close friend of Ghazala’s also a singer anonymously said, “We could be targeted for saying anything for or against her, but I would just like to pay my due respect to her. She was certainly a role model for many young singer and a great fellow of mine.”

KPK is an in-friendly domicile for artists, musicians or poets and is mostly obsessed with conventional social and religious constraints. Apart from the religious justifications against such professions, there are other social and family pressures. Additionally the security concerns from different militants and extremists groups usually overshadow the talent that the Pushtoon community has the potential to enjoy.

Dabagari Garden, where Ghazala was killed, used to be a sanctuary for the all and sundry in the music industry in KPK. Singers, instrument players, dancers, and artists, used to live peacefully in the district until 2002 when the religiously-inclined MMA (Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal ) came to power. These musicians then started vacating the area and looking for other avenues of work and play.

Considering how recently the Taliban poetry is making rounds in the local and global media, it becomes increasingly intriguing, what really is the benchmark behaviours they expect from people.

There are about 150 known musicians in different areas of KPK, most of whom will not say anything about their conditions in public out of the fear. A 22-year-old harmonium player, Imran Khan from the district of Dabagari, was abrasively beaten up by an unknown group for speaking openly about Ghazala’s grief. “I just spoke about the unnecessary fear that creative people in our town generally have to face. Everyone should have the freedom to choose their profession, as freely as in the rest of the country.” Imran who got scars from the beating concluded, “If music serves my soul, then my soul should die, or I should die.”

What killed Ghazala could be a prevailing patriarchal mindset and indeed, in some way, the Taliban ideology now deeply ingrained in the Pashtun society. Such killings have proved to be inspirational in many cases in the tribal areas. However, in order to deal with this, there is strong need for action from the government to administer the law and order situation more vigilantly. The need of a judicial system, based on fare inquiries and investigations, is gravely need in the area to deal with the fanatic activism that is prevailing in KPK, the threat of which does not just board against the female singers but makes life difficult for Pashtuns as people to live freely and make tasteful choices for entertainment.

The author is a journalist based in Pakistan – currently reporting from conflict areas.

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Comments (21)

Nangyal Isfahan
September 4, 2012 11:14 am
Pardon me-she was not killed by her ex-husband. Everybody knows this including the police in Peshawar but does not have the courage to pursue the real culprits. She was killed by a very powerful man in KPK whose son wanted to marry her. The son, later on, committed suicide
El Cid
September 4, 2012 6:57 am
So her jealous ex-husband kills her, and her father...and the Taliban are to blame? Pakistan has a problem but it is not the Taliban. It is the inability to think clearly, coherently, logically. The Taliban love poetry. They write and sing much...often, even when bombs are falling and bullets flying, singing through their hair. Don't let the propaganda that they are any less than human seduce you.
Sari raza
September 4, 2012 7:31 pm
This is very strange when spades are not called spades. Throwing acid or any such abuse is WRONG and noone is supporting it but messing up with idiology and freedom of expression and believes is abigger sin to human kind. Please do not confuse people an should always raise your voice against any wrong doings.
FRA
September 4, 2012 12:28 pm
Incoherence in the article and twisting facts about the real killers... Why media have to see and show taliban hand in every activity? What about acid throwing incident outside KP across the country? The so called writer from conflict zones should focus on the misery of common people affected by the conflicts created by outsiders. Pathetic.
Aamir
September 4, 2012 3:24 pm
You are among the minority that makes the majority of the Pakistanis ashamed to be a Pakistani.
jibran
September 4, 2012 8:49 am
I come from Peshawar and I am shia as well. My close relations and many of our community have been killed by banned organisations . Their modus operandi is exactly the same as employed in Ghazala murder. As for Police officer's comment please note that they routinely try to distract attention away from Taliban or their sympathiser's becoz they are very powerful and judges and police are afraid of it. By the looks of it, it has all the hallmarks of a banned organization or taliban sympathiser handiwork.
Dr Shaaz Mahboob
September 4, 2012 12:10 pm
"Taliban love poetry"? "they write and sing much"? Are you confusing Taliban with some other people?
Paul
September 4, 2012 1:45 am
what a country! brilliant !! keep it up !!!
Jamil Awan
September 4, 2012 6:30 am
it's really sad that government is unable to establish the Justice in our country. The murderer of this poor girl are roaming freely and nobody is taking action. If we citizen don't unite against these barbaric and uncivilized acts the risk is there and we are permitting these fanatics to destroy our cultural heritage. What these extremists did in Afghanistan with Bamiyan Buddhist sculptures, these will not hesitate to destroy the hole Kushans archeological treasure in Northwest of pakistan specially in Swat where lies the Ghandhara civilization. If pakistan is unable to protect it's own country, it's international duty to protect world heritage, otherwise the same tragedy will follow what happened in Bamiyan. Being from this part of world i feel extremely bad to revisit my own country! Jamil Awan
Abdul Rehman
September 4, 2012 5:40 am
Don't start the blame game. Everyone of us is responsible for the plight of Music and Entertainment in Pakistan.
zahid
September 3, 2012 8:37 pm
a beautiful lovely person..............such a tragic shame...
Muhammed
September 4, 2012 1:19 pm
this is normal for any society in which RELIGION (and so many sects) have a Mixup with people with Total Ignorance. If the same trend continues - people's heads would be cut if the even WHISTLE
Silajit
September 4, 2012 12:18 am
I have heard her music on youtube and even though I don't understand the words, I can see why she is so popular. Hope that form of music lives on.
FRA
September 4, 2012 2:22 pm
Can you elaborate a bit more on your point Mr Nangyal; we want to know more.
rehan
September 4, 2012 6:13 pm
I was wonder if this article would be linked somehow to "extremist religiosity" ...and I wasn't too wrong I see ... Of course , the Secularist media couldn't wait till the rumours about "Taliban involvement" were confirmed .... !
Abbas
September 4, 2012 2:26 pm
You should be ashamed of sympthasiing with these criminals. There is only one incident of acid throwing but what about those atrocieties of Taliban when they butchered the innocent people during funerals, in mosques,or shia people. Brainwashing innocent kids to become bombers. Is this Islam? Who has given them this right to take the lives of others. Creating orphans and widows. Shame on those people who are silent spectators Inshallah they will be answerable. Weldone DAWN newspaper this is actuall Jihad to become the voice of innocent people.
schazad
September 4, 2012 7:36 pm
I think this is the saddest news of this year and some time to come. The vacuum created by Ghazala won't be filled. It is very unfortunate that intolerance which exist now in our society has started eating itself. I think report has some wrong information. Dawn should check its sources.
Muhammad Shahab
September 4, 2012 2:03 pm
I would only say one thing and that is to kill all of those who divide themselves from each other, can anyone answer me that what muslim means and were there any sects when Prophet Muhammad PBUH was alive? The simple answer is NO so simply kill all those idiots who affiliate themselves with this man made bullshit* I ain't shia nor sunni :) Just a muslim and I can not divide myself among the ummah that I have been a part of. I am really sorry to hear people cry about this shit that shia did that, sunni did this, can't they read Quran and figure it out themselves that what's the truth behind it there was no sect at the time of revelation and even after the Prophet's death, because it was all about being a muslim not Sunni or Shia, these ideologies are created by some bastards who have no knowledge whatsoever.
Muhammad Shahab
September 4, 2012 2:07 pm
Its all because of ignorance :) I would not say that there's anything wrong in Pakistan it just because of our laziness we do not even crave for truth nor we seek knowledge so this dividing has taken over us all...
rehan
September 4, 2012 6:16 pm
I completely agree. If Muslim sects keep fighting each other , then it would give Secularist to promote their agenda real easily!
Muhammed
September 4, 2012 1:17 pm
Jibran, I have all my sympathies, from bottom of my heart. I am a Muslim and a Sunni. Unfortunately there is very low level understanding of what RELIGION is all about. On both sides - Shia or Sunni Both Shia and Sunni's should take out any HATRED from their Deepest and Most Authentic Literature(s), which is the Ultimate Cause of all these issues. It is not possible to get peace when internally everyone talks HATE in their privates. Lets Only have LOVE and Peace in core of our Religions / Sects
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