Essence of Qawwali
good news please
The setting up of a Press Council of Pakistan involves many controversial issues that prevent it from becoming fully functional
By Nadeem Iqbal
It is over 10 months now that the Press Council of Pakistan came into existence, with the federal government having appointed its first chairman and around two dozen staff in a rented house in the posh E-7 sector of capital Islamabad. However, it has not become operational because the media bodies have not sent their nominees. They demand certain amendments in the harsh and discretionary clauses of media laws before doing so.
It was in October 2002 that the ordinance was promulgated by the president under the then emergency powers. For over five years, different media bodies have been reluctant to send their nominees to the government, fearing that the council will also be misused and curb media freedom.
Not waiting for nominations from the media, the government not only appointed its chairman but in a period of less than one year replaced him with another judge. Justice Ejaz Yousaf has swapped his position with Justice Javed Iqbal as judge of the Supreme Court belonging to Balochistan.
The law says that the chairman of the council is to be appointed by the president and should either be a retired judge of the Supreme Court or qualified to be so. The chairman is removed only if the council members pass a resolution by two-thirds majority on the ground of misconduct, incapacity, impropriety or moral turpitude. Or, the chairman may resign his office by giving notice in writing to the council. However, the case of Justice Ejaz Yousaf has become a unique case as he has been removed from the council without following the proper procedure -- the 19-member council has yet to come into existence. The council's composition includes four members each from All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and the professional bodies of journalists. Other members include Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council and two MNAs, one each from treasury and opposition.
Therefore, in his situation, the president may have very much followed the law by appointing a chairman for three years' term with a salary, allowances and perquisites admissible to a judge of the Supreme Court but he can not remove the chairman at will.
Equally interesting is the fact that Justice Ejaz Yousaf, who earlier retired as Chief Justice of the Federal Shariat Court before his appointment on March 3, 2007 as Chairman Press Council, has not mentioned his around eight month stint in the Press Council in his profile put on the Supreme Court website. <http://www. supremecourt.gov.pk//profile-Ejaz.htm>
When an official source was asked this question by TNS, he said that the question [a blooper one should say] should better be addressed to the law ministry.
This episode has confirmed the worst fears of journalist bodies who are questioning if the Press Council is independent of the government. Mazhar Abbas, Secretary General PFUJ (Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists) told TNS that the union has been resisting formation of the Press Council because its laws were not shared with the PFUJ or working journalists.
"The government", he said, "has shared the draft law with the newspaper owners in APNS and CPNE but even they did not nominate their representatives. It's only now that the information ministry has shared the law with us and asked us to send the amendments which the PFUJ has prepared and that will be shared with the government after the elections."
A source closer to Justice Javed Iqbal confided to TNS that the Chairman is ready to incorporate any logical amendment proposed by journalists' representatives. The source further told TNS that after his removal from the Supreme Court he accepted this post as Chairman Press Council because it did not involve taking oath under PCO.
President of the CPNE, Syed Faseih Iqbal, who was involved in the negotiation with the government, told TNS that APNS and CPNE's stance remains that until the black media laws and changes made in the laws after Nov 3 emergency are not removed, they are not going to send their representatives to the council.
He added that as for press accountability and serving the public need to preserve the rights of the citizens, the CPNE in October last year had constituted an independent Media Complaints Commission (MCC) under the chairmanship of Justice (R) Nasir Aslam Zahid.
In 2002 when the Press Council Ordinance was promulgated, it was part of three other laws including a defamation law, procedures for registration of printing presses, newspapers and news agencies and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
Though a benign law related only to print journalism, the media bodies have always seen the establishment of Press Council in the context of other laws and consider it an infringement on the freedom of expression.
The Council is mandated to implement, revise, update, enforce the ethical code of practice as given in the law for the newspapers, news agencies, editors and journalists. On receiving complaints regarding violations, it will form Inquiry Commissions comprising three members including a retired High Court Judge or a person qualified to be a judge of the High Court as Chairman; a nominee of APNS and another by CPNE. There is no representation of working journalists on the inquiry commission. The commission will make its recommendations to the council.
The media bodies' objections are mainly related to a provision of the ordinance that in case the council asks the newspaper concerned to issue an apology and it refuses to tender one, the council will recommend to the competent authority to suspend publication of the newspaper concerned for a specific period or even to cancel its declaration.
The media bodies demand that since this is only a regulatory body, this provision can be neutered instead by asking other newspapers and news agencies to publish the aggrieved party's version.
There is also the question of funding. The ordinance provides for a government grant-in-aid for the functioning of the Press Council. Even though the APNS and the CPNE had also made this demand, such a grant-in-aid will make the council appear a government body and militate against its independent working. It would be much better if the funding came from the budgetary allocations passed by the National Assembly, or perhaps, the newspapers could themselves fund the council. In India, for instance, newspapers finance the press council, each member's share being in proportion to the circulation certified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
The law also provides that the council shall also act as a shield for freedom of the press. It may receive a complaint by a newspaper, a journalist or any institution or individual concerned with a newspaper against the federal government, provincial government or any organisation including political parties for interference in the free functioning of the press.
The code of ethics, which is part of the Press Council Ordinance, includes references to material tending to undermine Pakistan's "sovereignty and integrity as an independent country" or "violative of Article 19 of the Constitution" (freedom of speech) which are vague, open to the widest possible interpretation, and obviously need more careful consideration.
Like civil servants, politicians, postmen and artists, birds are always on the move. If not flying, then hovering on a branch or searching food on some rooftop, these are constantly turning their necks, opening their beaks, scratching their feathers, shifting their feet and jerking their bodies. Little sparrows and black crows in search of food in human habitats are perpetually alert, because of an instinctive fear of mankind.
In that context, Ruby Chishti's works depicting neatly fabricated crows that appeared solemnly solid bothered the viewer at an unconscious level. Simultaneously, birds' dark bodies -- fabricated with junk materials consisting of old clothes and metal wires and scattered around the gallery -- suggested a sense of gloom usually associated with crows, the unwanted creatures. The artist has used these birds as they are traditionally used -- signs of guests and important news. This concept still prevails amongst the masses, especially their folk songs and proverbs.
Along with the crows, the other groups in her exhibition (Ruby Chishti's solo exhibition was held from Jan 30-Feb 07, 2008 at Canvas Gallery, Karachi) were women, both naked and covered. On several panels and in the baskets (made of twigs) figures of nude women (aged and shapeless) and Afghani burqas were composed. Ruby described the genesis of these works in her experience of looking after her old mother. The exposure to her withered body, decaying skin and paralysed self was translated into small figurine constructed with swollen stocking. These headless and often armless bare torsos communicated an image of female, devoid of any charm, activity or even life.
Sullen bodies with drooping flesh were composed in rows or were stacked in the baskets next to burqas -- forms which were enigmatic. In one panel these burqas, of same size but in different shades, were fixed in straight lines. The idea of repeating one motif/image was seen in another panel, with the back of girls' heads glued on the surface. These forms were constructed with fabric and wool of various colours.
With all her women, clothed, nude, headless torso and heads with pony tails, the idea of stillness emerged in the work of Ruby Chishti. Human figures, made with stockings and other stuff, represented an aspect of body that is far from being glamorous or energetic. Though the artist explained her work in line with her experience of managing her mother, but the work like any interesting art piece moved beyond its initial/original frame of thought. It conveyed the status of women in a society, which forces them to either stay indoor, hidden under covers or treated as mere object of desire.
Thus the nude figures in Ruby's work defied attraction and presented another reality linked with the body. This representation of women was not aimed at making them grotesque in content, but an attempt to showcase the lifeless aspect of a human being.
The works of Ruby, in a sense trespassed from the state of existence to the stillness of death. The death was raised in many other ways in several works: The infant with his umbilical cord ending in a tassel, or a newborn's head and some parts of body sculpted with layers of sanitary pads. These pieces, along with another torso, made with the same material and resting a hand on a cow's head suggested the fascination, fear and the danger of death (Presumably these ideas must have occupied the artist during her involvement with her ailing mother).
Torso next to a cow's head signified a feminist position too, since the animal's head was shaped with various bras, stretched and sewn together. The fact that faceless nude was engaged in a gesture of possession (reminiscent of pictures about hunting expeditions) reflected Ruby's observation of how men consider women and animals/pets as their personal properties. For them the idea to overpower them provides a sense of extreme satisfaction, pleasure and pride.
Besides her feminine approach and feminist position, the idea of violence was dominant in some other works. Built with threads, rag dolls, plastics, the work on large fabrics dealt with war, killings and terror in a society. In a piece, the scenes from a ravished battlefield were recreated with dead figures, bleeding bodies and torn surfaces with the small shape of a buraq, meticulously rendered in plastic. In another work a tiny armoured car with a few soldiers was woven on a huge area of red cloth. The juxtaposition of a military vehicle with the vastness of red communicated the effects of war and aftermath of violence.
A soft, docile and peaceful person, Chishti's work unveiled the presence of power and violence as a social critique. The work reaffirmed the extended 'role' of violence in our lives. The growth of this element has affected people in two ways. If they exist in perpetual fear of dying in a bomb blast, or through bullets fired by unknown assassins, they are gradually becoming immune to this. And on some level they have accepted death through violence as one of the natural means to depart this world.
Seeing the works of Ruby Chishti in our surroundings (Ruby resides in USA) and contemporary context, one assumes that soon people will get familiar with the presence of violence in our society -- as they are becoming used to power breakdown, gaps in gas supply and disappearance of wheat from their lives.
The present day qawwals are not very familiar with the text in the classical languages and neither are the audiences
By Sarwat Ali
Asif Santo Khan's qawwali performance held at the Alhamra last week was closer to the traditional rendering of the form.
The text is of importance in the qawwali and as the form evolved, the beginning of qawwali recital was the Arabic verses, either from the holy text or the hadith, followed by Persian poetry, while the major and the bigger chunk consisted of the last section based on the text in vernacular languages.
It is difficult to say how qawwali as a form of music originated and then urbanised through centuries to reach us in the 20th and now the 21st century. Most of the professional and hereditary musicians attribute its origin to the genius of Amir Khusro as a creative response by a Muslim to the chanting and recitation of the liturgical texts of the Hindus. It may have been so but the form must have evolved and taken a number of stylistic shapes. Seven or eight hundred years is too long a period to assume that the form did not undergo any fundamental change. It is beyond comprehension but like in the other forms of music the changes could not be documented as a primary source because music could not be recorded live. If the form did not change significantly over this period then it is safer to assume that there was something horribly wrong with society which had reached a high state of stagnation.
Tracing the steps backwards to reconstruct the form, probably this music activity must have picked up in the 12th and 13th and a sizeable body of practitioners must have been identified with this new genre of singing, closely attached to the shrines of certain sufi orders like the Chishtia. The shrine must have granted patronage since there was no other forum where this could be performed with any degree of regularity. Probably it reached out to a number of people who were moved by its message, the musical appeal or both.
This sizeable body of practitioners were called 'qawwal bachcha', those who sang or rendered the qawwali and were differentiated from other practitioners of music. Those who were respected and indulged in higher forms of music were probably known as 'kalawants'. Some of the originators and early performers of the kheyal gaiki are said to be qawwal bachcha. Probably Bare Muhammed Khan of Rewa who brought in more flexibility and innovation in the dhrupad by rendering faster passages commonly known as tans was a 'qawwal bachha'.
When Khurshid Anwar went about listing the kheyal gharanas in the 1970s for his Ahang e Khusravi he also included the Qawwal Bachcons Ka Gharana as a kheyal gharana and identified Chote Ghulam Ali Khan as the representative of that gharana and included his number.
Some scholars, making a clear distinction by reason of religion, probably doesn't hold much credence because of the conversions that were taking place even among the music practitioners. Tansen, a kalawant, is said to have transformed and his progeny in vocal and instrumental music proved to be the fountainhead of music that followed. So many noted musicians and vocalists end by establishing a connection with the house of Tansen, either through his sons or his daughters but unfortunately so little is known even about Tansen, the greatest musician of the last millennium that in the last four centuries it has not been implausible to separate fact from myth in his case.
It can be assumed that since qawwali was a form that had a more popular foundation as compared to the dhrupad, which was performed at the highest forms like the courts the language was vernacular. This characteristic probably qawwali shared with the kheyal which also preferred the vernacular over the more staid expression for the lyrics of its compositions in the late 18th, 19th and the 20th century.
The present day qawwals are not very familiar with the text in the classical languages and neither are the audiences. Once classical languages were part of the daily discourse and the curriculum of the educated but, in the course of the last century, the relationship has been disrupted. Now the educated classes are not schooled in the classics and what the qawwals render is probably understood and appreciated as part of some glorious tradition or in deference to an international response. And when the qawwali moves into the languages which are understood by the local population, the emphasis shifts to text that borders on the polemical.
The musicians in our tradition, including the qawwals, have never been very educated in the formal sense but due to the structure of society and the close knit institutional setup were educated informally. Somehow they understood the relationship of the note with the word not as scholars, poets or the critics expected them to but in its finer musical aspects of tonal nuance and shades. Now that the institutional setup is not that closely knit and society too is spinning on more than one pivot the informal input in the education of musicians has become a trickle. The bond is loosening and threatening the basis of the assumption on which the entire musical edifice has rested.
Asif Santo Khan is among the company of qawwals like Rahat Fateh Ali, Rizwan Muazzam, Amjad Sabri who are tackling the phase after the qawwali as a form had reached great heights through Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Aziz Mian and Ghulam Fareed Sabri. There is increased responsibility on them to steady the ship after the great tidal wave of success.
On his recent image building trip to Europe, President Musharraf peddled the message that any Pakistani who criticises anything that is happening in Pakistan is basically not patriotic and a ghadaar.
A manifestation of this thinking was the incident at the Defence institute RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) when President Musharraf was so extremely displeased by a question put to him by one of our most respected and senior journalists, M Ziauddin, Dawn's correspondent in London. Ziauddin asked the president about the escape from custody of high profile terrorist Rashid Rauf, in the light of the president's boast that security and intelligence services in Pakistan had everything quite under control.
The president was furious. And he was so furious that a couple of hours later he mentioned the correspondent when he addressed a gathering of like-minded members of the Pakistani community at a function organised by the High Commission. He basically said who needs enemies when we have Pakistanis like this in our midst. He then told the audience that they needed to 'stop people like this' and then jokingly remarked that if they thought it appropriate they could slap him around him as well ("aik do tikka bhi dain").
President's rather unwise remark was then empathically denied by his robust spokesman General Rashid Qureshi, but the fact is that it happens to be on record, the president's speech is on tape. Lawyers and journalists have reacted angrily to a remark that is really incitement to violence.
But the president seems to be taking any analysis/criticism of anything that happens in Pakistan as some sort of personal affront. In a briefing to Pakistani journalists at the tail end of his eight day tour, he repeated the same message of dishonesty: he cited the example of 'our neighbouring country' where according to him poverty was rampant and 'a high percentage of farmers commit suicide because conditions are so bad' but whose people are fiercely patriotic and don't criticise their nation. We could have pointed out to him that our neighbouring country happens to have very strong institutions, the judiciary is independent and it is billed as the world's largest democracy, so the comparison is hardly valid. Of course nobody could really point this out as we were in a controlled briefing of a sarkari nature.
I think part of the problem is that the president no longer meets any normal people. His world is now the glittering world of the Islamabad Presidency and the ultra rich interiors of hotels like the London Dorchester. The closest he probably comes to meeting any minions is at the annual Christmas lunch at the Sindh Club, and since that is attended by the super elite of Karachi, you can imagine just how much distance he has put between himself and the average Pakistani citizen.
So anybody who mentions 'atta crisis' to the president should expect to be ticked off very, very severely. He and his colleagues will get back to you with facts and figures: the GDP, the consumer price index and so on, but be completely oblivious to the hardships of those desperate people who stand in food lines for hours, desperate for atta to feed their families.
So this is the new Sarkari thinking 'Either a Proud Pakistan or a Traitor be'. But this active discouragement of criticism can be very dangerous. And it is highly disturbing when you see this philosophy in action and hear it expressed, as I did recently on none other than the inimitable TV channel, PTV Global. A bright eyed young lad in a smart suit was hosting an imitation of a current events show. This desi version of Robert Downey Jr, was so highly excitable that he started the show with a news item on successes in Pak China fighter jet design with the exclamation: "Mr Pressler WE DID IT!!!!!!!!" and then as explanation mentioned the infamous Pressler amendment (blocking the sale of US F16s to Pakistan) as 'the Larry amendment' (sic).
The young lad with his rather sweet American accent and exaggerated desi pronunciation of ethnic names then proceeded to talk to an 'analyst' about the EU's Javier Solana telling President Musharraf that the EU would wait and see what happened in the February elections before deciding a course of action. "What did Javier Solana mean?" exclaimed our ultra patriot "Was that a threat?"
And then, to rub in the general sarkari view of 'enemy Pakistanis in our midst' this patriotic TV host proceeded to talk to a foreign photojournalist after saying that wasn't this great and 'no Pakistani photojournalists were interested in taking photos in their own country'. I found this an ill informed and fairly insulting remark since in the past few decades we have seen fine work from a growing number of photo journalists -- Salman Rashid, Nafisa Shah and Zahid Hussain to mention but a few whose portfolios are so impressive.
So here's my view, formed after listening to the president's paranoid remarks and current PTV propaganda: the next big movement is the proud Pakistanis movement -- backed and funded by the sarkaris. This will build up an army of rabid right wing 'patriots' who will regard critics (lawyers protesting for a free judiciary) and analysts (journalist and politicians who are able to articulate comments that are not government propaganda) as THE ENEMY. These people will wave Pakistani flags and placards with photos of President Musharraf and will justify everything (beating up protesters, sacking the judiciary, dismissing an elected government, imposing emergency rule, playing dirty politics) by saying 'Sab say pehle Pakistan.'