Hate in the air
A murder in Rachna Town highlights an overwhelming anti non-Muslim
sentiment in the locality
By Aoun Sahi
It was around eight in the morning on January 5, when two young men entered Mohammed Yousaf's grocery store in Rachna Town and gunned him down in the presence of his two sons. Yousaf, 70, was a well-respected local Ahmadi leader, in Rachna Town, situated 15 kilometres from Lahore on the main GT Road in Ferozwala tehsil of Sheikhupura district.
In the FIR, the family of Yousaf has alleged the local leadership of the Tehreek-e-Tahafuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat (TTKN) assisted the killers.
"On December 27, 2009, the local leadership of TTKN, headed by Maulana Muhammed Ahmed Faridi, arranged an anti-Ahmadi gathering in the chowk of neighbouring locality Peoples Colony, where they also erected a signboard containing anti-Ahmadi material," says Fatehuddin, Yousaf's 35 year-old son.
According to Fatehuddin, the very next day his father, being the head of local Ahmadi community, gave an application to the local police pointing out the activities of Faridi and his organisation. Yousaf asked the police to provide security to the Ahmadi community in the area.
"The police did nothing and one week later my father was murdered in front of me. They were two boys between the ages of 20-25. They had short beards and were so well-trained that they fired six bullets, all of which hit my father. They took only 10-15 seconds to accomplish their task and escape. We could not even respond to the situation," says a tearful Fatehuddin.
According to him, they have been living in this locality for years but it has become more and more dangerous for Ahmadis "mainly because of the activities of TTKN."
Rachna Town is much like any other typical Pakistani lower-middle class locality -- with bumpy roads, overly-populated streets, overflowing gutters and heaps of garbage. What differentiates Rachna Town from other localities, however, is the overwhelming presence of anti-Ahmadi banners, posters, signboards and graffiti on the streets and roads stating them murdood (apostate), enemies of Islam and the Prophet and thus Wajabul Qatal (ought to be killed). Almost 150 Ahmadi families have been living in the area.
Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Faridi, who originally belongs to Okara district and is nominated in the FIR as the abettor of the killers, tells TNS on the phone that he has been targeted by Ahmadis only because of his public opposition against them. "It is only because of our efforts that the whole Muslim community in our area is against them. We have created hate against them because they deserve it. They are enemies of Islam and Shariah allows Muslims to kill such people. We have only written the message of Islam on these signboards, posters and banners. I am not involved in this murder and I will try to prove my innocence. Even if I am sent to jail under the allegation of protecting the sacredness of the finality of the Prophet, I will have no problem to spend my whole life in jail," he tells TNS.
According to Faridi, Pir Ashraf Rasool, the PML-N MPA from his area has been very supportive. "He is my old friend and we have been working as members of TTKN since long. He is helping me only because he is a Muslim who strongly believes in the finality of the Prophet.
"We, the four nominated abettors of the killer in the FIR, went to the police with him three days back and told them our side of the story. He has also arranged our meeting with the high police officials of the district and hopefully we will be able to convince them that we are being targeted only because of our struggle against exposing Qadiyaniat," he says.
Local police confirmed to TNS that the suspects came to the police station with PML-N MPA Pir Ashraf Rasool on January 11. "They were allowed to leave on the MPA's guarantee. He has assured to bring them to the police station whenever we need them," says Sub-Inspector Rai Zulfiqar Ali, in charge of the investigation in Ferozwala police station.
Many residents of the locality seem satisfied by the role played by TTKN to raise the level of awareness among people against the Ahmadis.
"Majority of the population in our area belongs to the Sunni Barelvi school of thought. Other sects, like Shia and Wahabis, also have a presence. There are almost 50 mosques in our area and most of them are affiliated with TTKN. It has been working actively in our town since 5-6 years and at present an overwhelming majority of our area is convinced that fighting against Qadiyaniat is a religious duty," says 40-year-old Javed Iqbal and a father of three.
He thinks Muhammad Yousuf was a good human being but does not feel sorry about his murder. "He was a good man and was never involved in preaching openly but after all he was a follower of Shaitaniat (Satanism). I do not think that TTKN is involved in his murder." Iqbal says that a visible difference has been observed in the youth of the area during the last few years. "Now, they are more inclined towards religion."
TNS visited four different mosques of the area and found that none of the prayer leaders were local. They belonged to Sahiwal, Okara, Haroonabad and NWFP. They all appeared to be staunch supporters of TTKN. "It is our prime right to spread the message of Islam and to curb the conspiracies against our religion. Qadiyaniat is one of the ugliest conspiracies against Islam and we need to fight it," says Maulana Muhammad Banaras, a prominent leader of TTKN and also one of the prayer leaders in Ferozwala. He originally belongs to NWFP.
Banaras strongly believes that none of TTKN member is involved in the murder of Yousaf. "If our 'Mujaheedin' were involved in this murder, they would have proudly announced this publicly. This is enough to prove the innocence of Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Faridi and others' involvement in this case," he says while the people sitting beside him nod their heads in approval.
When asked about the leaning of the youth, he seems more than happy. "They are our main support and at present we have a youth wing that has scores of members."
Banares warns the police of dire consequences if it tries to arrest or pressurise innocent Muslims for a crime they have not done. "We know Qadiyanis have a very strong lobby and will try to punish us for hating them, but we warn our government and the police to not play in the hands of enemies of the Prophet, otherwise they will also have to face our wrath."
The youth of area also seem emotionally involved in the case. "We are peaceful, but if the police try to arrest Maulana Ahmed Ali Faridi and others, we cannot guarantee peace in the area," says 20-year-old Abdul Jabbar, a charged resident of Rachna Town.
(The writer went to Rachna Town along with the fact-finding mission of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. He conducted his own investigations into the incident).
Hundred years of no solitude
Interesting aspects from the life of F. E. Chaudhry that can be relished and relived
By Sarwat Ali
The Lahore of about a hundred years back seems another country. It was a very small place in comparison and the various landmarks which had made the city famous were either already in place or in the process of being built. And the man who has witnessed all this is none other than F. E. Chaudhry who with his camera captured most of the significant moments that constitute the history of the past one hundred years.
It is almost one hundred years because F.E is one hundred and he started to live in Lahore from 1920 when as a ten-year-old he was brought to the city and has not moved out since. He went to Saint Francis School behind Oriental College, the Forman Christian College when it was between Nila Gumbad and Bank Square, and fondly remembers Kinnaird College on Lake Road where Madrastul Binnat is located these days.
The book, an extended interview by Munir Ahmed Munir, has much to offer and reflect upon but the interesting aspects can be picked, relished and relived. Where entertainment or show business or art was concerned, Lahore was quite a vibrant place. It has remained so for many centuries notwithstanding the various phases and reigns that it has experienced in its long history. Some have been good while others woefully repressive; the resilience of the people seeing the worst through, albeit with permanent scars.
So small was the city or the idea of spaces was so different that when Abdul Rashed Kardar set up his film company and wanted to shoot outdoors, the best and the likeable site was the banks of the River Ravi, especially around Kamran's Baradari. The office of Kardar's production was initially in Bhatti Gate and then was shifted out to Ravi Road; the unit would trudge from Ravi Road to the banks of the Ravi for the shoot. After a couple of days, the people started complaining that the journey from the city to the river, a merely two kilometres stretch, was very long and it tired them out. To pacify the grumbling unit, Kardar had to enact choldaris (tents) on the banks of the river. The unit was happy that it did not have to travel back and forth every day and had to come back once the entire shoot had wrapped up.
The city was small in comparison and it meant the walled city. Mozang, Baghbanpura and Qila Gujjar Singh were considered villages of Lahore while Icchra, Nawaan Kot, Badami Bagh and Begum Kot, were bahar ke gaon, (outside villages) and were known as pinds (villages) like Icchra Pind. Icchra was named after Rani Ichraan after she was exiled from Sialkot by Raja Salawan, when her son Puran was accused by Luna, the stepmother of seducing her.
The most likely venue for cultural events was the Bradlaugh Hall and Chaudhry did witness many a play, performances and meetings there in the earlier part of the year. A famous venue for political gatherings, it was there that in 1929 the Indian National Congress passed its resolution for the independence of India. The other place apparently was the sprawling house Lal Kothi of Ram Saran Das who very often held dance and music sessions in his house which apparently was not really exclusive. The common man could also peep in and relish the moment. The house was also famous for observing all the religious festivals, Muslim, Sikhs and Hindu alike. Ram Saran Das was the son of Mela Ram, the contractor who on becoming fabulously rich had branched out into other professions. He was a great philanthropist and Lahore had many landmarks which owed their origins to the generosity of Mela Ram.
It was here that Gohar Jan Calcattewali came and performed. So enthusiastic was the response that she came again the next year and since it was to be a big draw the arrangement was made at Bradlaugh Hall. The people who saw that performance were Nawab Mohammed Ali Qazilbash, Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana, Diya Krishan Kaul, Raja Narindan Nath, Fakir Iftikharuddin and Mian Sirajdin, indeed the native elite.
Bradlaugh Hall was also the favourite haunt of the touring Theatrical Companies like Cowasjee Theatrical Company, Habib Seth Theatrical Company and the famous starts like Master Nisar demonstrated their talent of singing, dancing and acting. All the parts were played by men, even the female ones, but this taboo was broken by Haider Baandi of Kasur. She was probably one of the first actresses to play a female role on stage.
So groundbreaking was her act that the theatre came to be known as Haider Banndi Ka Theatre and people forgot both the name of the company and the play. The other famous venue for plays was the YMCA Hall on the Mall. Here too theatrical companies presented their plays; the ones of Agha Hashr were fondly remembered.
But there were open spaces where the touring theatrical companies pitched tents and performed. One such place was the area now behind the Assembly Building and stretched right till where the current Royal Park is. It was a kind of a carnival where people besides the performing arts could also eat, drink, gamble and ride merry-go-rounds.
Another area where touring companies pitched their tents was the Bansowala Bazaar. It was again a very bustling place especially in the evening. The companies enclosed spaces with tin sheets and the play would continue for the entire night. The companies that performed there were Bombay Parsi Theatrical Company and Alfred Company presenting the likes of Alif Laila, Shireen Farhad, Laila Majnoon. The happy hunting ground for the circus was the open stretch on Mcleod Road where Rattan Cinema stands desolate now.
The University Senate Hall was a public venue. It was here that Rabindranath Tagore was welcomed by more than five hundred guests and then later in 1938 Narayan Rao Vyas gave a performance of classical music. In 1940, Iqbal Day was held in this very Senate Hall, presided over by Jinnah.
One of the legends was that a beautiful dancer adorned the floor of Metro. One day her admirer or lover while displaying some antics in a plane over Metro came crashing down. He died. The dancer too left the Metro and quit dancing.
How the exhibition invite has evolved is indicative of a shift in the position of arts over the years
By Quddus Mirza
Ten years back an article of mine appeared on these pages whose subject was: exhibition invites. The piece was not aimed at a specific gallery; yet immediately after its publication, a gallery in Karachi sent a letter to the writer, denouncing the text, considering it a personal affront and pronouncing all sorts of threats.
A decade later, one notices that each gallery has developed a distinct format for its invites, which emphasises the work on display and communicates the message clearly than before. Earlier on, the practice was to print superfluous text with small pictures of art work. The card had a different layout and size for each exhibition (even in case of a single gallery).
Undoubtedly, this transformation occurred with the passage of time. But there is a definitive role of a few individuals and art establishments. The new trend was started by Canvas Gallery in Karachi that ensured uniformity in design and dimensions of its invites. From as early as 2002, it opted for a single vertical card in place of a folded leaflet which had been a normal preference for our galleries. Presently, in most of the invitations received from various galleries across the country, the elongated card seems to be the single-most favourite format.
On surface, the matter of invitation card may appear superficial or irrelevant; in reality, it denotes a shift in the perception and position of art in the last ten years. Contrary to previous notions of art -- being a useless, frivolous and luxuriant activity -- it is now regarded a serious endeavour, which not only enhances the intellectual and cultural profile of the nation, but can be pursued in order to survive economically (the economic survival part being equally true for the makers of art, dealers, gallery-owners, curators and art critics). Thus, apart from the invites, the pattern of display, labelling of work, press reviews and crowds gathered for the openings – all convey and confirm the importance of art in our midst.
This change of attitude is a direct outcome of a new phenomenon: the contemporary art of Pakistan, which is slick, subtle and sophisticated. As the new invite signifies a professional approach towards the business of showing and selling art; similarly a maturity is discerned in the genre of contemporary art of Pakistan. The new streak is now recognised both inside and outside the country. In contrast to early exercises in contemporary art, which were scarcely exhibited in the gallery and were not collected either, in recent years, the new works produced here are quickly whisked away to be shown and sold in the galleries in London, New York and New Delhi.
Art created in this decade has certain characteristics which need to be understood and acknowledged. These features become evident in degree shows at different art institutes in the country. A large part of works made by these young artists negates a sense of identification – be it with the school, city, state or region. Contemporary art emerging from our institutions appears to have liberated itself from themes such as political repression, gender and ethnic representation. Rather, a new sense of internationalism prevails. One may call it professionalism, competitiveness or effects of globalisation; art in Pakistan is fast catching up with examples from various parts of the world. Thus contemporary art from this land is shaping into a mould that is better understood, well-received and more appreciated internationally. It resembles mainstream art not only in its medium and material but shares a global vision in terms of imagery, ideas and issue. Concerns such as political terrorism, alienation of individual and clash of cultures recur in most of the works of our contemporary artists.
Apart from these, a formal interest in the surface quality, preference for large scale and an increasing fascination with realistic imagery are a few more aspects that can be traced in the art of present times. Probably these elements (incorporated without any plan or programme on the part of artists) represent the fabric of society and an epoch that is dominated by media, particularly television and internet.
Apart from all these reasons, which may well be speculative, another factor that has shaped contemporary art is the pressure of gallery, buyers and collectors that has compelled the artists to continue making works, which can be marketed on the basis of uniqeness of style and branding of exotica. Due to the incredible growth of gallery business (and finally with their smart invitation cards), the current debate in the contemporary art does not revolve around old jargons such as "art for art's sake" or "art for life's sake". It can be described as "art for the sake of market".
Some good news from Britain: the home secretary has banned a group which, rather presumptuously, calls itself Islam4UK. Don't be fooled by the Islam reference: this group's only claim to fame appears to be dressing up in traditional desert garb, sporting big ugly beards and being as obnoxious as possible about Britain -- the country they live in and belong to.
This is the group that turned up at Luton and disrupted a march by the British army's Royal Anglian Regiment with helpful placards like "Butchers of Basra" and other such charming messages. They are also the people who recently threw eggs at the Conservative politician Baroness Saeeda Warsi. They were planning to have an anti-government, anti-army march in Wooton Bassett the town where all the British soldiers killed in action are 'repatriated' (i.e. their bodies are brought home).
I have no sympathy for these unpleasant men who quote British law and go on about their legal rights even though they are in the business of hate-mongering and rabble-rousing. They seem to have no constructive purpose in life -- their main aim seems to be to antagonise the British authorities by taking an "oppressed Muslims versus evil British government" stance. They address the UK government as "You" and refer to themselves as "Us Muslims".
Now my question is: if they hate Britain so much, why don't they go and live in an orthodox Muslim country such as Saudi Arabia? Why do they take every advantage of the liberties existing in a secular democracy even as they abuse and undermine it?
Their actions indicate that they just need violence, confrontation and rabble-rousing so they can be on a weird, never-ending power trip.
I mean, I can understand how Muslim radical causes can attract the most underprivileged youngsters from such an economically unequal and lawless society as Pakistan. But I do not think this UK group consists of people who can lay claim to suffering or deprivation; they have had access to education (free or highly subsidised by the government), access to free healthcare and all sorts of social services and benefit payments. If they don't like Britain, they should jolly well leave instead of trying to turn it into a haven for regressive men like themselves...
The government ban of Islam4Uk has been criticised by various quarters but I think the authorities here have been far too lenient with these people who are, after all, just merchants of hatred and prejudice. One of their groups invaded the central plaza of our local shopping area recently and was handing out pamphlets which said extremely derogatory things about all religions other than Islam -- they used language like "false religions", infidels and so on, and consigned them to "burning in the hellfire". We live in a mixed community: Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Christians -- we are all neighbours here and we do not need this sort of poison injected into our neighbourhoods. When I challenged one of these desert garb evangelists about the contents of the leaflets and their message of hate they got really angry with me and started yelling "It is in the Qur'an" (pronounced in exaggerated Arabic style). That is their basic response to anything because the thinking is that you can't possibly challenge that Holy Book assertion.
We live in violent times, difficult times. We don't need an illusion of salvation in the hereafter to propel us forward in life; what we need is the humanitarian teachings of our religions to guide us in trying to make this world a better, kinder place.
Compassion and tolerance are not easy, but they sure are preferable to the kind of venomous hatred and violence that these sorts of groups preach.