Ransom for life
A rise in kidnappings shows the crime has become a favourite with both local gangs and the Taliban
The family of Esana Das, the caretaker of Krishna Temple in Quetta, have been living in Balochistan since ages. Esana, 34, is extremely worried these days as the attendance in the temple has been reducing, as many members of his family, friends and other member of his community have either migrated from Balochistan or are trying to do so.
Frightened by the rise in kidnappings for ransom, in which their community is being targeted, many Hindus want to leave the country at the first opportunity. “More than 40 members of the Hindu community have been kidnapped in Balochistan during the last two years,” said Das. “Most of them returned home after paying hefty amounts to kidnappers. Consequently, more than 150 families of our community have migrated from Balochistan” Das also added that India is the logical destination.
According to the Balochistan Home Department, 291 people were abducted throughout Balochistan in 2010. Of this, a large number were Hindus. According to details, in Quetta eight incidents of kidnapping occurred in 2010, in which four belonged to the Hindu community. The situation is worse in Naseerabad district where 28 people were kidnapped in 2010 and half of the victims belonged to the Hindu community. In total, at least 41 people belonging to the Hindu community have been abducted during the past three years, while four were killed as they resisted.
“Kidnappers don’t target us as Hindus only, but as people who can afford paying hefty amounts as ransom. Majority of Hindus are well-off and do trade and different businesses,” said Esana Das.
Das also mentioned seven local employees of an American NGO who were kidnapped in Balochistan on July 19 by unknown men in Pishin district. “They all are Muslims,” he said.
On July 8 this year, a Swiss couple was also kidnapped by unknown people in the Loralai district of the province when they were travelling there. The whereabouts of the missing couple are still not known.
Situation in other parts of country is also grim. Kidnappings for ransom have also surged in Khyber Pakthoonkhwa. According to police sources, more than 600 cases were reported in 2010, compared to 300 in 2009. Those kidnapped include university professors, doctors, diplomats, politicians and lawyers. High-profile kidnappings have been taking place across the province since 2008. The Afghan consul-general in Peshawar, Abdul Haq Ferahi, was one of the first such victims. Another prominent victim was the Iranian Consul General Hashmatullah Atharzadeh. Peshawar University Vice Chancellor Ajmal Khan is also among the kidnapped.
“Both Taliban and local gangs are involved in these kidnappings and most of them took place in or surrounding Peshawar,” a Peshawar based police official told TNS on conditions of anonymity.
On June 22 2011, Federal Minister for Interior, Rehman Malik, informed the National Assembly that 15,365 incidents of abduction and kidnappings took place in the country during 2010.
He told the floor that 52 cases of abduction occurred in Islamabad, 13497 in Punjab, 1293 in Sindh, 273 in Khyber Pakthoonkhwa and 250 in Balochistan. “Abductions are mostly done by terrorists and they target big cities for this purpose. Children are also abducted for use as suicide bombers,” he had informed the house.
Peshawar-based senior journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai believes that Pakistani Taliban have been using kidnapping for ransom as a source for their funding. “They have been doing this for many years, but as their other sources of funding were squeezed or cut down, they have been depending a lot on kidnappings as a good source of funding.” Yusufzai added that kidnapping serves two purposes for militants. “They try to abduct not only rich but important people and then demand money and want their people to get released in exchange. We have heard that they exchanged some members of Osama Bin Ladin’s family in return for an Iranian diplomat, though the Iranians deny it”.
A story published by the American news agency Associated Press two weeks back also seconds Yusufzai’s point of view. According to the story, pressured by increased scrutiny of terrorist money sources and strikes aimed at its financiers, al-Qaeda’s core organisation in Pakistan has turned to kidnapping for ransom to offset dwindling cash reserves. According to US officials, “Bin Laden’s interest in kidnapping as a cash-raiser bolsters accounts that the financial squeeze has staggered al-Qaeda, forcing it to search for alternative funding sources. Officials would not detail al-Qaeda’s role in specific crimes, but the group’s affiliates have targeted diplomats, tourists and merchants”.
Punjab is one of the most favourite area for kidnappers as maximum number of abductions during the last three years took place here. According to interior ministry data, out of 2,300 cases of kidnapping for ransom in the country during the last three years, 834 were reported in Punjab. Police sources in Punjab say that there are different reasons for this. Though, they do not deny involvement of militant organisations, they say that there is an increase in local gangs also being involved in such cases. “Taliban are also involved in many cases, but what happens is that many of the local gangs have also started this business in their style. They kidnap somebody from Punjab and start calling the family members from some phone numbers registered in Khyber Pakthoonkhwa or Balochistan implying as if the Taliban were involved in abduction of that person. We have busted some gangs with this modus operandi,” said a senior police official deputed in Lahore.
He also mentioned some problems the police department has been facing in countering kidnappings. “We do not have direct access to mobile phone data. We have to get it from intelligence agencies and it takes at least 10 hours to get the data and location of mobiles of kidnapped people or kidnappers,” he said.
Abdul Hayee, the Karachi-based Coordinator of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that such cases have increased in Sindh during the last few years. “In majority of cases, people instead of informing the police like to cut a deal with the kidnappers”. He did not, however, think that kidnappers have been targeting a certain minority or community. “Their only criterion is how much money they would be able to extort from the person they kidnap.” Hayee added that law and order and economic conditions of the country are the main reasons for the rise in kidnapping for ransom.
Ahmad Chinoy, Chairman Citizen Police Liaison Committee, said that during last two years they have arrested 22 gangs involved in kidnapping for ransom in Karachi. “All of them are local people and none of them have links with Taliban”. He says that major constraint in fighting this crime is that police has no direct access to mobile phone data. “If the government is serious about fighting crimes like kidnapping for ransom, it should allow the police to import technical equipment like mobile locators directly. Curbing such crimes is impossible without giving police direct access to mobile locators.”
By Quddus Mirza
Visiting Mansion, the artists’ residency, in its first week I saw a small plastic violin lying on the bed and wondered if the tiny musical object, fabricated in convincing detail, was an art work. Soon an artist clarified that it was a functional object — a toy belonging to previous tenants of the house.
This connection or contradiction is a common concern in contemporary art; more so because artists are engaged in activities which are regarded as non-art. Especially since Marcel Duchamp employed readymade things as art and Andy Warhol created pieces resembling industrial products like cartons of a particular soap in his studio (called factory), the distinction between art and life is fast diminishing.
Thus image has become a separate reality independent of its reference to actuality; in a parallel way, reality is also turned into an image, without it being transformed much — or at all. Artists who are a part of the Mansion residency deal with the same dilemma in which they are responding to the space, a house, in order to make their mark.
Mansion is initiated and organised by Nausheen Saeed. Five artists, Amna Ilyas, Ayesha Zulfiqar, Ehsan ul Haq, Iqra Tanveer and Sajjad Ahmed, are invited to work at the upper (and abandoned) storey of a house in Gulberg Lahore. At the end of this residency (which began on June 20, 2011), the exhibition of artists’ works is being held on July 23-24, 2011. Coinciding with the show, a discussion on artists’ works, experiences and the concept of residency was arranged on July 23.
Each artist approached the issue of specific site in separate schemes. Amna Ilyas has produced cubes made of transparent Perspex sheet, put on top of each other, which repeat the dimension of the floor tiles and are installed in the middle of entrance to the house. The work interacts with the space in two different ways. At one angle it becomes a solid mass that echoes the proportions of tiles on the floor, while on another view it starts to disappear, thus merging with the building. Ayesha Zulfiqar has responded to the house by tracing the (unused) door frames, which were hidden behind the plaster during the renovation of the place. These frames, outlined and carved, also remind of loss and how its presence grows in our memory. A state that is described by Aravind Adiga in his novel (Last Man in Tower) “A man’s past keeps on growing, even when his future has come to a full stop”.
Other participants of the residency have dealt with the physicality of space, and the divide between reality and art. In Ehsan ul Haq’s installation, a cock is tied in the middle of the room, with grain sprinkled on the entire floor. The fowl picks its feed but, because its leg is bound in a string, can only move in a specific radius. Thus a circular mark is made on the floor; so art is created through a phenomenon of life.
This split or similarity of art and life is experienced in the work of Iqra Tanveer too. She has covered an entire wall of a room with the print of a scene from nature. However, the already existing window panes and bookshelf in the room have become part of the visual. Through this piece Tanveer tries to erase the distinction between inside and outside (of culture and nature); and hints at man’s need for connecting with nature once he has started to reside in built environments. Due to that longing for nature, one not only keeps large scale glass windows in the house, but also prefers to hang pictures of beautiful meadows and fields, either painted or photographed, or even in the form a calendar or poster.
The shift of two contradictory entities is addressed again in the work of Sajjad Ahmed. He has switched floor with the ceiling, as two sofas and a small table are stuck, upside down, on the ceiling thus giving the illusion of what is seen at top is just (or like) the ground beneath our feet. Experiencing all these works, one realises the link between art and its background. Usually when artists are making work in their studios, their temporary and final destinies are envisioned. Either these works ends up in the house of an ardent collector, or inside an office or, if the artist is lucky, in a museum or in a gallery.
To all these future places of rest, the art work behaves in a neutral way. It is prepared in such a manner so it can fit any new space — well. Often this is perceived as a kind of privilege and freedom because the artist is not bothered about the actual location. However one has witnessed the impact of space in some important works from the history of art, like Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, that continued the view of real space inside the painted surface – in an illusionist scheme. Sometimes, the artists have used actual surroundings in their works.
Likewise, artists at Mansion residency have interacted with the house in order to produce their site-specific works, but more than their art pieces they have created something else — a dialogue with each other. Being at one place and working together, they were not only responding to the location, but sharing their thoughts as well. Discussions among themselves as well as with Nausheen Saeed, the organiser, were probably the most significant outcome of this residency, because it encouraged an activity that is fast disappearing in our art. Today, artists are busy making their works but it is not very common for them to get together and talk, seriously, about art. The reason why they avoid discourse on art may lie in the change of attitude towards art since, for several practitioners, it is a matter of bread and business and they prefer to keep working in their own style rather than putting themselves up for scrutiny of other artists, thus damaging their practice and subsequent sale.
Mansion, in its five weeks, offered that rare space in which the artists got a chance to exchange ideas with each other.
On Shahbaz Qalandar’s 759th Urs, one wonders about his contribution to music
By Sarwat Ali
The Urs of a sufi as popular as Shahbaz Qalandar is an occasion to recount and recall the diversity in our intellectual and cultural tradition, which has coloured our history in these 1400 years. One of the biggest congregations takes place on the Urs, as he seems to be one of the favourites with the musicians because his kalaam totally tied up with tradition is sung in the length and breadth of Sindh and Balochistan.
In the last four decades or so “Lal Meri Paat Rakhio Bhala Jhule Lalan” has introduced him to the urban audiences, and all kinds of versions have been in currency since. It is very difficult to say whether this composition is by Shahbaz Qalandar himself or by one of his devotees. It is equally difficult to vouch as to how old it is.
It had been assumed that since music existed in time its value could only be assessed in time. Every performance was thus a new performance and not a repetition of the previous one even if it was an established bandish based on a prevalent raag. Though it was never important to track the development of music but with the advent of recording about a hundred years ago it became possible to treat time in a linear manner. But older habits have prevailed and still there is no proper documentation of music and its evolution in this part of the world. Besides being involved with the listening of music, its documentation too is equally important and hopefully someone has taken the responsibility of doing so, starting from Sehwan.
The early mystics disenchanted by the symbiosis of power and religion decided to opt out of this equation. Further, as Islam spread to the non-Arab regions, local practices and intellectual traditions were accommodated by their inclusion into the ever widening net of disco urse. It took many shapes and forms, at times so divergent that tariqat was pitched against the Shariaat, at times the two dovetailed each other, a widening spectrum containing different shades and nuances. The inflow of these mystics increased into the areas east and south of the Oxus River after the Mongol invasions and from historical accounts it is clear that Lal Shahbaz was one of the earlier ones to have arrived and eventually settled here.
Being a Qalandar, Lal Shahbaz swung to an extreme and according to one classification of the sufis was a jalali faqir as compared to the jamali faqirs. Stepping aside the layers of rituals he must have insisted on attaining unity through mystical union. And probably, over a period of time, it became a centre for the congregation of mystical practices aided by the inclusion of music. The ball-by-ball account of all these 700 odd years of Sehwan, as a centre of music, has been unfortunately lost to history but the vibrancy of the tradition points to a continuation of this congregation.
This makes one wonder whether Shahbaz Qalandar’s contribution to music was more than that of a patron and that he was more actively involved in music making like the other sufi saint from Sindh who followed him many centuries later — Shah Abdul Lateef Bhitai. As in almost all cases concerning music, the evidence that can be backed with documentation is scant. If the reality of continuous practice of musical rendition and performances at his shrine for centuries is considered solid evidence, the proof of a living tradition points to him having strong links with the art form.
In mystical practices all over the world, the state of being in ecstasy is the nadir of mystical experience. It is through the negation of the self that one attains a state of abandonment. In our tradition the terms used for ecstasy are “wajd” and “sukr”. And usually it was attained through some form of musical expression. All through the Muslim world there seems some kind of a similar pattern followed on the shrines.
The other term that is used or associated with Qalandar is that of kafi. This term both in Sindhi and Punjabi is used for a form of poetry, which is popular and one of the major forms of expression. Kafi is also a parental musical mode and is sung as a raag. It has been a debatable point as to whether kafi was a musical form to which lyrics were composed or a poetic form, which was then composed according to a certain tonal arrangement.
But in the case of Shahbaz Qalandar, apparently it was a designation of a group of people meant to look after the shrine, mostly doing menial duties of cleaning and keeping it spick and span. This group also participated vehemently in dhammal, especially on the occasion of the annual Urs of the saint. The name of Syed Haji Fateh Ali Sabzwari, a keeper o f the shrine, is mentioned as having organised it formally as an institution. One Fakir Nadir Ali Shah Pathan too played some major role in it according to Dr. Ghulam Hussain Haider Sindhi.
It may seem far-fetched to link this kafi to either the musical or the poetical form but it is clear that their association with dhamaal does have some connection with music and dance. What exactly had been the equation between the two is very difficult to tell, and at best like in so many others of our terms and expressions intelligent guesswork remains the final recourse
Naubat is played on the shrine either solo or collectively. It is a little difficult to trace the history as to when it started being played on the shrine but it is an accepted belief that it had been played since the days of Shahbaz Qalandar himself. It is played twice in twenty-four hours — at dusk and dawn and on both occasions is accompanied by dhamaal. To many, dhammal too started with the Shahbaz Qalandar and the tradition has continued till the present. It is a dance performed on the rhythmic variations of the naubat and is probably the most artistic manner of losing ones identity and merging with the collective and bigger identity. Invoking a state of trance helps in obliterating the distinction between the self and other.
In her recent show at Koel Gallery, Ayesha Siddiqui has produced sensuous mixed media paintings that set a standard for the narrative potential of abstraction
By Aasim Akhtar
“Each one of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and means…thus we cover the universe with drawings we have lived.”— Gaston Bachelard
Ayesha Siddiqui is best known for the impulsive surfaces created in this mature body of work, ‘stroke’ paintings, emanating from the most elementary gesture in painting, the brush stroke. An exploration of the continuity, surface, and texture of the single, repeated gesture, the stroke paintings are large, rectangular canvases. Directly linked to the body, ‘stroke’ is a term with strongly haptic associations. If stroking is an action of pressure and repetition, then an individual stroke is an utterance of touch. Siddiqui focuses on the sensory qualities of paint, its tactility, and range of expression. Her erotic grids balance seepage and absorption, alluding to bodily experience through layered articulations of paint.
Siddiqui’s sensual gestures can be seen as a reaction against the pervasive minimal tendencies of the late 1960s America. Her strokes are given full expression, where paint is allowed to spread, culminating in heavy drips, smears, and globs. Her brushwork combines densities to create evocative and richly textured surfaces and her assertion of the body establishes the visceral dimensions of her endeavour.
The process of drawing has provided much of the framework for these paintings. Through her own boisterous successions of tertiary colour slashes and scribbles, Siddiqui has also sought to loosen the constraints of the grid. Two paintings on show done in a warm palette, seem to evoke this principle in which slim black hatch marks become bolder, thicker, and more saturated in descending configurations, ending in a row of glowing orange and red stalks, pointing to the expansion of line. Through stacking, Siddiqui amasses bands of unbroken colour, all of varying length and girth. Such inventories of the line are a way of accruing physicality and depth. This sense of expansiveness allows for permeability within the picture plan, often expressed through thin layers of wash, porous, half-formed spheres, and semi-obscured grids.
In some paintings, short and staccato, the strokes move rather than drip, forming a lattice over a nearly blank canvas, interspersed with a few splashes of full colour. Triangular structures drawn in pastels like mathematical notations and icons replete with crosses and circles offer the barest suggestion of a narrative. They conjure the idea of a house, a site of domesticity and care giving. Whimsical, autobiographical canvases devoted to all the houses Siddiqui had ever lived in, she uses the stick-figure form of the house – the basic square with a triangular roof – as a symbol of constant relocation. The childish symbolism masks the adult weariness endemic to city life: the impermanence of renting, the fear of never settling down. The canvases are scattered with other kinds of structures, such as simple shacks suggested by two rows of windows, but it is the repetition of the house that induces displacement and monotony. They also articulate the poignant memories that one retains from childhood. Through plainly rendered architectural details, such as bare doorways and simple stoops, Siddiqui conjures the sensory details glimpsed at a young age.
Fraught with bold, disparate sections and dynamic brushwork, Siddiqui has created a loose series of paintings, akin to musical compositions. Alluding to a harmony of sounds through the blending of disparate parts, Siddiqui is not the first painter to treat painting as a musical composition. Her contemporaries, Saba Hussain and Shireen Kamran, also use titles derived from music. Based on musical sketches, they have been situating highly abstracted narrative forms, such as figures, in the midst of tumultuous landscapes.
James Mc Neill Whistler’s ‘Symphony in White No.3’ is one of the earliest incarnations of the usage of symphony. The suggestion that painting could somehow simulate a complex musical form incurred the wrath of the era’s leading critics. This anecdote opens up a few avenues. The composer John Cage might have been inspired by Hamerton to create a grating, single-note symphony. But in a male-dominated art form, a symphony of paint made by a woman is already a silent insurrection.
Ayesha Siddiqui draws upon a vast repertoire of painterly techniques — smearing, blending, bleeding — to convey both vastness of form and a strong material presence. Clearly, Siddiqui conceives of painting as a dramatic force. Through an intensity of gesture, the paintings lead the viewer through an opulent and lyrical series of movements. Some paintings anticipate climax and resolution through a succession of events. During a storm, this occurs in the moments of calm between surges of thunder and lightning; within a stage production, through the process of an unfolding narrative. Siddiqui may describe herself as giving both visual and textual instructions within the canvas, offering direction and guidance within the work. Such offers of guidance signify her dual role as both director and protagonist.
There are strong affinities between the stroke, symphony, and field paintings. Siddiqui is an extremely process-oriented painter, and all three bodies of work overlap, sometimes within one painting. There are no clear divisions or applicable chronologies in determining where one leaves off and another begins. For instance, there are diptychs and triptychs that function as combination paintings. The left panel may be filled with short, dense multicoloured strokes, while the right panel may be mottled with tufts, suggestive of clumps of roots.
While it is tempting to read the canvases left to right, as a gradual migration from flatter strokes to more three-dimensional, constructed surfaces, both disrupt the interpretation of Siddiqui’s oeuvre as progressive. Rather, the paintings offer fluidity as both a strategy and an opportunity for continuous return across bodies of work.