There is a shade of grey between the usual bashing of Bilawal and PPP by pro-Taliban Deobandi thugs and pro-establishment fake liberlas and the uncritical promotion of Sindh festival particualrly at Mohenjo Daro by some PPP loyalists.
In my personal view, genuine concerns of conservationists and Sindhi people (many of them, as a matter of fact, are sympathetic to Bilawal and the spirit of Sindh festival) must not be discarded. It’s not a case of with us or against us!
Personally while I support the Sindh festival and also clearly laud Bilawal’s bold rhetoric against Takfiri Taliban terrorists, there are three issues:
1. There is an element of superficiality to the Sindh festival and the anti-Taliban rhetoric. The main threats to Sindh culture, i.e., Deobandi and Wahhabi/Salafi cerlics and terrorists, remain untouched. Ahmed Ludhyanvi Deobandi, Hafiz Saeed Salafi and Fazlur-Rehman Deobandi have growing influence in rural and urban Sindh, and this growth remains unchecked.
Dr Ayesha Siddiqa asks:
“Do such events actually resurrect the pluralism of a society or are these mirages of pluralism that we tend to create to fool ourselves that things can be changed without bringing about structural changes?” (https://lubpak.net/archives/297955)
As a matter of fact, on the very day of the SindFest inauguration ceremony, while most eyes (of PPP’s supporters and critics) were focused on Mohenjo Daro, this was actually happening in Karachi, the political and cultural capital of Sindh: https://lubpak.net/archives/302939
2. The event was clearly a get together of elites and waderas instead of a show for Sindhi haaris and farmers. Instead of 500 members of mostly elitist backgrounds, I would have much more preferred to see 500 haaris, underclass and have nots of Khairpur, Nawabshah, Larkana and Lyari sitting in the show, being treated as VIPs by Bilawal and his team.
Who were the participants? Here’s how Rob Crilly describes them in his article in Telegraph:
Several hundred politicians, socialites and diplomats gathered at the ancient site of Mohenjodaro on Saturday night to witness an opening ceremony that combined imagery from the 5,000-year-old Indus Valley civilisation, that once dominated this part of South Asia, with dance beats and lasers. The audience was drawn from the country’s liberal elite, ferried in by chartered 737 from Karachi some 300 miles away, rather than the ordinary Pakistanis that Mr Bhutto Zardari says he wants to reach. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/10613192/Bilawal-Bhuttos-plea-for-Pakistan-we-are-not-the-Taliban.html)
In his recent note on facebook, Shahram Azhar writes:
Whose Sindh and whose culture? Culture is the manner in which we construct and reproduce our shared meanings. It is the process through which we define our identity and carve an understanding of the “self” through language, art, religion etc.
The process of constructing these meanings is not power-neutral since how we understand our self shapes our response to the world in which we live. Every national/regional culture conceals, within its shell, a culture of its elite and the culture of its subaltern groups. The gap between the two is a lot wider in post-colonial societies.
I think that Sindh Cultural Festival effectively points towards the fact that there is a lot LESS in common between the cultures of the Sindhi Hari and the Sindhi Wadaira, the Sindhi worker and the Sindhi capitalist, than the Sindhi ruling class would like us to believe.
It is only a matter of time before the oppressed in every regional sub-category of Pakistan (Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and KPK) realize that common appeals to “heritage” are one of the SOURCES through which the elite establish their economic, political and cultural hegemony over the poor. It is only a matter of time before the subaltern stands in unison facing the “keepers of culture” and pronounces: If “heritage” is the source of your power then it is a “heritage that we renounce”.
The above criticism cannot be amalgamated with and shrugged off as the right-wing or fake-liberal critique of the PPP and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. In order to revive the old socialist character of PPP, Bilawal is better advised to get rid of the elitist advisors and flatterers that currently surround him and instead develp direct links with the have-nots of the society.
3. The choice of site for the Sind festival seems to be ill advised.
According to a BBC report:
Farzand Masih, head of the Department of Archaeology at Punjab University, said such activity was banned under the Antiquity Act. “You cannot even hammer a nail at an archaeological site,” he said. “The laser and spotlights, secondly, will cause rapid decay at the site which is already exposed to many negative factors.” He added that he had declined an invitation to attend. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-25962278)
According to another news report:
Experts have warned the festival could put Moenjo Daro, a UNESCO World Heritage site built around 2,600 BC, in danger. Large wooden and steel scaffolding has been erected over and around the ruin, which UNESCO describes as “the most ancient and best-preserved ruin on the Indian subcontinent”, while heavy spotlights and lasers have been installed for a light show. The site has been transformed into a high security facility, with hundreds of police commandos surrounding the ruins. Some even stood atop the stupa, a Buddhist shrine, as workers hammered nails into a stage, an AFP reporter at the site said. (http://tribune.com.pk/story/666343/hundreds-swarm-moenjo-daro-ruins-for-sindh-festival-ceremony/)
An official statement signed by Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, Chairman of Management Board for Antiquities and Physical Heritage, Government of Sindh, confirms the threat to the 5000-year old ruins because of the ill-advised selection of the site for Sindh Fest. (http://mn37f51mvh00alp9.zippykid.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/7.jpg)
In other words, while I do not subscribe to the opportunist, right-wing bashing of Bilawal and his Sindh festival, I am concerned about the ill-advised choice of the site. PPP’s press release in this regard lacks in substance, the experts cited in the document are Sindh govt employees, pictures are themselves an evidence to the contrary. Contrast the pictures in this post with this statement in an official document released by the PPP/Sindh govt: “The stage and seating are not being installed atop the anicent ruins” said Sharmila Farooqi, advisor on culture to the Sindh CM.
I am also concerned about PPP’s lack of action to suppress the spread of Deobandi/Wahhabi ideology and radicalism in Sindh province. If PPP and Bilawal really wish to preserve Sindhi culture and values, first they need to clearly identify, arrest and punish the culture killers. In other words, Sindh government needs to nab Aurangzeb Farooqi and his Deobandi thugs who continue to kill and harass Sunni Barelvis, Shias and Hindus in Karachi, Khairpur and other parts of Sindh, and also stop JuD-LeT, ASWJ-LeJ and JUI from spreading Deobandi and Wahhabi/Salafi hate mosques and madrassahs in Sindh. Sindh is a holy land of Sunni Sufis, Shias, Hindus and is inclusive of all people living in this land including Muhajirs, Punjabis and Pashtuns. Its inclusive character must be preserved by translating at least some of the rhetoric into substantive action.