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Using performing arts to counter extremists’ narrative in south

Updated February 18, 2015

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— Dawn photos
— Dawn photos

LODHRAN: Those using religion to promote their extremist agenda and militancy can be countered effectively through cultural means --- Sufi poetry, folk music and dance -- which have been part of people’s life in this region for centuries in the form of folk melas (festivals).

This was the idea behind holding ‘Khwaja Fareed Aman Mela’ in four south Punjab districts -- Muzaffargar, Multan, Lodhran and Bahawalpur. The events were organised by two non-government organisations, Ummeed Jawan and Lok Sujaag, with an aim to promote a narrative among different segments of society to counter extremist views.

The organisers say the purpose of these peace festivals is to expose people, especially the youth to their cultural roots and linking their identity with centuries old traditions of religious tolerance, humanity and cultural diversity.

The four districts marked for the activity are considered ‘heavens’ for recruitment of youths by some banned militant outfits to promote their brand of religion and terrorism.

“There is a strong need to counter such extremists’ narratives promoted in the name of sect and religion”, veteran politician and former president of Pakistan tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Javed Hashmi said this while addressing participants of the festival at Multan Arts Council.

Raziuddin Razi, the festivals’ focal person, says religious extremism is the biggest challenge both to our internal and external security and it is high time to counter it with indigenous symbols being ignored by our state for the last six decades.

He says these symbols are found not only in our classical Sufi poetry from Baba Farid to Khawaja Farid but also in our folk music, folk dances and different other art forms.

Mr Razi says these festivals have been organised in each of the four districts on weekends to ensure maximum participation. He says some 100 poets writing poetry in their mother tongue, 300 folk dancers, 25 folk singers performed in these festivals which were attended by some 10,000 people. As many as 10 theatre performances were also part of these festivals, he adds.

Tauqeer Mustafa, one of the organisers, says the public response to these events was encouraging.

“The reason is that people living in rural parts of the districts are entertainment-starved and they took it as a breath of fresh air,” he says.

Majeed, a poet from Lodhran, says people enjoyed cultural festivals because what is being performed at stage is close to their own experience.

Lalu Lal, an artist from Marwari dance group, says there are hardly any festival left in the region and such opportunities are rare where folk artists are invited to perform.

Published in Dawn February 18th , 2015

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