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Spotlight: A dark day for the performing arts

June 30, 2012


The tragic death of popular Pushto singer Ghazala Javed has sent shockwaves among artist community and her large following in Afghanistan and in the Gulf States. She was killed along with her father Mohammad Javed in Peshawar’s Dabgari Bazaar, Mohalla Nau, on the night of June 18, as she came out of a beauty salon to leave for a show in Islamabad. The centuries-old Dabgari Bazaar used to be a famous street housing musicians till the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) government renamed it Tableeghi Gali (Preachers Street), and it recently witnessed the cold-blooded, brutal murder of the promising singer.

The memory of the gory incidents of the killing of celebrated Pushto singer Ayman Udas allegedly by her brothers two years ago, and the murder of young singer Shahid Khan and a performer about a month ago are still fresh in the minds of Peshawarites. Now, another tragedy has struck in the form of the murder of Ghazala Javed, a young lady of outstanding beauty and a refined voice, that serves to remind us that such horrific incidents are far from over. Domestic violence coupled with militants’ threats to the lives of artists and singers in KP is a matter that demands immediate action. Many have either bid farewell to the profession of their ancestors or have taken refuge in safe havens, while the remaining few live out their lives under the constant fear of impending death.

Born in 1990 in the Tahirabad area of Mingora, Swat, dancing and singing came naturally to Ghazala. She quit school in the 4th grade to pursue her passion. But as bad luck would have it, Taliban overtook the scenic Swat valley in 2007, and warned all performers of severe consequences if they continued to pursue their professional trade. Shabana, a performer/dancer, became the first victim.

Faced with grim prospects, Ghazala moved her family to Peshawar and relaunched her career, initially lip-syncing and acting in music videos based on popular Pushto numbers. But singing was her real forte and she shot to fame when her debut Pushto album, Kho Lag Rasha Kana (Move Closer), was released in early 2004. She soon became the most sought after singer for Pushto music videos and audio CDs.

Ghazala frequently travelled to Dubai, Afghanistan and throughout Pakistan for performances and released more than two dozen albums, most of which scaled the Pushto music charts during her short career and earned her many awards. Both her colleagues from the artist community and her numerous fans term her death as an irreparable loss not only to Pushto music but also to the issue of Pushto female singers.

“The overall situation of the performing arts in KP has never been conducive, but militancy has accelerated the pace of deterioration to an extent where it is now a matter life and death. Ghazala was among the handful of female singers who could perform live, and with her death the female voice in Pushto music has become poorer. I have been the victim of extremism several times and countless artists and singers in KP live veritably under the shadow of death. If the ministers and government officials are not safe then who to complain to of insecurity,” questions renowned folk singer Gulzar Alam.

Promising female performer Gulpanra says, “I had exchanged greetings with Ghazala at a music studio just two hours before her death.

Though it was apparently a domestic issue that claimed her life, it will definitely scare away girls from taking up the performing arts. Life here is a challenge for the artist community with self-preservation the only option.”

Singer Sidra Khan launched her career three years ago. “Whenever I leave home to perform at a wedding ceremony or go to studio recordings I always take care to cover my head properly. Even then the very next night after Ghazala’s murder I received a phone call threatening me with the words: ‘It’s your turn now’! I think every artist/singer in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is receiving such threats, and even if we bring it to the notice of law-enforcement agencies what will they do? The only suggestion they can give us is that we should observe  extra caution and that’s about all,” says the singer.

Every such killing grips the people with fear and anger. Ihtisham Toru, President of Culture Journalists Forum (CJF), told Images on Sunday that the organisation has been working in collaboration with the culture directorate of the KP for over three years to revive cultural activities throughout the province but “protection to artists/singers is one area that cannot be ensured. We have been working for the welfare of the artist community, including providing security to them, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the government. It is a problem that the concerned authorities have simply failed to address,” said the president of CJF.