ISLAMABAD, March 11 Ajoka theatre changed its schedule and decided to perform the famous play Burqavaganza in protest against the Pakistan National Council of the Arts.

The play Kala Mainda Bhes was scheduled to be staged Thursday evening. Instead, Ajoka Director Madeeha Gauhar appeared on the stage and announced that it was mutually decided by the organizers, ActionAid) and Ajoka, to perform Burqavaganza.

“Unfortunately, the issue has once again been raised by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts authorities, who refused to have this play staged at the National Art Gallery today (Thursday).” Ms Gauhar said.

She added the PNCA authorities had no mandate to ban plays and could not do so without giving a valid reason. They just told ActionAid not to stage Burqavaganza, without assigning any reasons.

“We are within our rights to question this arbitrary decision of the PNCA since the play has been performed several times at NAG (National Art Gallery). We refuse to accept the absolutely unjustified 'ban' on Burqavaganza and Ajoka is determined to make its voice heard.

“We have struggled against oppressive dictatorship in the past and today we demand our right to the freedom of expression in a democratic Pakistan,” Madeeha Gauhar stressed.

The change in play was sudden. Ms Gauhar sat comfortably in the auditorium, listening to activist Farzana Bari's speech about challenges that lie ahead on the road to woman empowerment.

As soon as Ms Bari finished speaking, the Ajoka director walked up to the stage to make her protest against what she called “PNCA's arbitrary denial.”

After the play commenced, former information minister Sherry Rehman walked into the NAG auditorium to participate in a seminar as earlier planned.

She was also ignorant of the switch. This reporter asked Ms Rehman as to what she would speak on and she replied about the need for more laws to empower women.

As audience came out of the hall, many reporters were reached on cellphones by a PNCA official, who was sure that the play Kala Mainda Bhes was scheduled to be staged Thursday, and Ajoka should have morally adhered to the schedule. He denied that Ms Gauhar had informed PNCA about the change.

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