Jan 12, 2009

World - Pakistan’s Ajoka theatre told not to come to India

Nirupama Subramanian

National School of Drama festival had received threats

ISLAMABAD: On both sides of the border, eminent personalities are making fervent appeals on the importance of keeping up intellectual, cultural and people-to-people contacts between India and Pakistan in these troubled times, but the idea is under assault.

After a successful outing of its ‘Bullah’ at the Thrissur International Drama Festival last month, the Lahore-based Ajoka theatre was all set to return to India this week for the National School of Drama festival with another of its popular plays, only to be asked by the organisers not to come.

Madeeha Gauhar, director of Ajoka, said she received a call from NSD director Anuradha Kapoor, on Sunday afternoon asking her to cancel the group’s trip to New Delhi as the festival had received threats against putting up Pakistani plays.

“Ready to face”

“I told her that we receive many threats here in Pakistan too. We face them, and we are ready to face such threats in India. We cannot be deterred by them,” said Ms. Gauhar.

Another group from Pakistan already in New Delhi was scheduled to perform on Sunday. The NSD administration is said to have received threats on Sunday morning against going ahead with the show.

Extraordinary security measures were reported to have been taken against possible attempts at disruption.

Ironically enough, the play Ajoka was taking to New Delhi, titled ‘Hotel Mohenjo Daro,’ is about the havoc extremism wreaks on society.

The context is Pakistan – the play, written by Ghulam Abbas in the 1960s about an imaginary scenario in his country in the 21st century, is chillingly prophetic – but the message is universal.

Ms. Gauhar said she had appealed to the NSD not to cancel their show, scheduled on January 16.

“To do that would be to give them what they [extremists] want. This is what those behind the Mumbai attacks wanted,” she said, “to derail the whole peace process and all the good things that were happening between the two countries.”

Incredible response

But, said Ms. Gauhar, the “links do not evaporate, just like that.”

She spoke about being the first cultural group to venture into India after the Mumbai attacks for the drama festival in Kerala last month and described the response to their play about the 18th century Sufi poet Bulleh Shah as “incredible.”

Protesters from the Bharatiya Janata Party arrived at the venue on the morning the play was to be staged demanding from her that Pakistan must hand over those behind the Mumbai attacks.

But the protest leader returned to watch the play in the evening, Ms. Gauhar said, calling it the “magic of Bullah.”

Meanwhile, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the South Asian Free Media Association have made a joint appeal asking the two countries “not to allow the terrorists to hijack the peace agenda” and “to go back to the Composite Dialogue process,” which has provided the framework for the peace process since 2004.

Peace conference

HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir and SAFMA secretary-general Imtiaz Alam were in Amritsar on Sunday for a peace conference, where they also stressed the need for a joint India-Pakistan investigation into Mumbai and “a judicious prosecution” of the culprits.

“After passing through a denial mode, Pakistan has accepted the truth that those who attacked Mumbai were from Pakistan.”

“Following this admission, which should have come earlier, India must eschew its anger and get Pakistan to engage in negotiations on the basis of what has been revealed about Pakistanis’ involvement in the Mumbai attack,” they said in a joint statement.

They called upon Pakistan to “do the needful” since terrorism was the common enemy of both the countries and urged India and the media in both countries to show restraint.

“If there is cooperation and mutual understanding, the onus would be on Pakistan side to clean up its act; and if there is a threat of war from India then [Pakistan] would be under pressure [not to],” they said.

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