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August 6, 2011 / the s.a. project

the Mob mentality

Nairang Gallery, Lahore

With the plethora of Pakistani blogs focused on politics and current affairs that stream into my inbox and down my twitter timeline increasing as I speak, I reinforced my decision to keep that all out of my Blog. Not because I don’t agree with them. Quite the contrary actually. I believe speaking out and being heard is the only channel that’s left to us in these hard and trying times. But I deliberately kept them out because I decided this is only going to be about Art and the good, the bad and the ugly within. A small little corner for us artists. It seems like the ugly has followed me till here.

A few days ago a press release from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan HRCP popped out at me in my inbox. I opened it to find the organization taking a sharp stance against a Police attack on a young female curator at the Nairang Gallery, Lahore. The press release can be read here. It outlined that the young woman was attacked for fahashi or indecent behaviour. I googled it and searched through local news sites but found no mention. Apparently this had just happened and thus not gone to press. I tweeted the news and it immediately spread like wildfire.

Since yesterday I have come across several articles reporting the issue and detailing the inquiry status taken on various Pakistani news sites and blogs.

The articles report that the woman was allegedly attacked “for wearing a sleeveless dress and interacting with men“! (UPDATE Aug7: Attacked Nairang Curator has briefly explained the incident in the comments below. Read for clarification)

The comments written below several of these articles are quite appalling with several suggesting that this was appropriate action against growing ‘westernization’, while others state that this is a ‘rare’ event and should not be blown out of proportion. Others yet have added accusations of Hashish being smoked on-site and said that anyone supporting the gallery/curator also support drug use.

I, like many others, have no idea what the real story is and what actually happened. But even so, if one were to take into account that ‘something wrong’ were going on, one must step back and realize that there is a system, a set of laws and a procedure that can be followed to make sure justice is served. Violence, harassment and physical attacks by the very protectors of our society is unacceptable by any and all standards.

The fact that the country is in a state of complete lawlessness and that the policing agencies are abusing their powers (remember the rangers incident) should be enough for people to be clamouring for their rights and peace. But it seems that the poison always filters down and the people are beginning to think in the same maddening way. It’s the Mob Mentality that is spreading across the country, where people frustrated by the government, the economy and the political wars want justice in Blood. Anyone’s blood. In the same vein, they have begun to enjoy the suffering of others, terming them justifiable.

To accept an attack like this on a fellow human, a Pakistani, and a member of the artist community is to accept that no one will be spared whether they come in peace or not. It accepts unprovoked attacks on a person and drags their freedoms to the ground. It also reasserts that Pakistan is currently going through an accelerated radicalization that has nothing to do with humanity and even lesser with Islam. At the end it establishes the Government’s complete ineffectuality and in a perverse way their own support of such behaviour. The riot at the Shanakht Festival art exhibiton in 2009 has not yet been forgotten.

Waiting to hear what Nayyar Ali Dada, owner of Nairang gallery and Salima Hashmi, also member of HRCP, have to say on this and what action is taken.

I’m already bracing myself for the negative feedback this post will get from the ‘perpetual finger pointers and blamers’ that are found lurking on all Pakistani blogs and news sites. Those who will inevitably find an error in judgment of mine in supporting this and accuse me of ‘not standing for the hundreds who die everyday in heat and hunger’. To save you the trouble I condone that too, so back off, before I cut your nuts off.


Leave a Comment
  1. Rehan / Aug 6 2011 11:41 pm

    I was there when this happened. I had gone to see a Bharatnatyam performance and all of us were dumbfounded by the sick behaviour, displayed by our police. The lady at the gallery put up a courageous front and made sure the performance took place. As an artist, I find this quite humiliating and am disturbed by this constant perpetuation of moral cleansing by inept, uneducated, goons in uniform.

    One can only hope for better tidings in the future.

    • the s.a. project / Aug 6 2011 11:59 pm

      “As an artist, I find this quite humiliating and am disturbed by this constant perpetuation of moral cleansing by inept, uneducated, goons in uniform.” I agree wholeheartedly.

      I’m so glad you have spoken up and given some more insight into what happened. We can only hope it doesn’t happen again, but for that we must speak out against this like we speak up against everything else.

  2. mina / Aug 7 2011 12:15 am

    WTF!!!!! Give me a nut-chopper too. How dare anyone have that kind of sick power! And a tangential(ish) peeve: why is it always women who’re spreading fahashi?

    • the s.a. project / Aug 7 2011 5:29 am

      Apparently that’s all people seem to be obsessed with in Pakistan: what women do. And by people I mean its not just the men doing the criticizing and pointing fingers…other women are just as much to blame for adding fuel to the fire and not discouraging such cheap talk.

    • Saad / Aug 10 2011 4:05 am

      Please note that the conservative nexus which has been consistently supporting the extremists like Taliban covertly or openly are mum on the issue:

      Significant media groups have not reported the issue,
      The Khadim e Aala Punjab has not scene it fit to even suspend the officer and PML-N is silent on the matter and
      Lastly no suo moto notices have been taken by LHC or Supreme Court of Pakistan,

  3. Great article! The arts voice needs to be heard. And this incident is appalling!
    @Rehan, please continue to share your story of Amal’s courage, this isn’t just a 1 off incident, it represents a greater struggle for the arts community.

    • the s.a. project / Aug 7 2011 5:39 am

      thank you.
      and what a great job you’re doing too. a concern VERY close to my heart.
      will catch up with you on twitter then.

  4. ZM / Aug 7 2011 12:45 am

    True Saira, the ugly has crawled up onto our necks now and sitting on our face like a time bomb. What does one do now? We are few in number even if we have a legit argument. The sad reality is our passive activism because we aren’t the violent types. Seems like cutting their nuts off is the only way to respond to this kind of madness. But who will do that! Nevertheless, glad you lashed out at this one!

    • the s.a. project / Aug 7 2011 5:32 am

      Fortunately or unfortunately, our fight is through the pen (keyboards for you nitpickers…sheesh). Let’s never be silent.

  5. usman khan / Aug 7 2011 4:04 am

    Is there something that can actually be done about this? I mean in the courts or do we just follow him home and break his fingers one by one while chewing on his child just to mess with his head. After watching his child getting gnawed on I don’t think he would think about abusing his power or authority.
    p.s: A police guard at the parliament was nice enough to tell us we could hop over the fence and go visit the under ground museum where the Islamic summit minar is. He reassured us that no one would shoot us in the head from a roof top upon my inquiries regarding hidden sniper ninjas. But anyway, it was the first time in my life I visited that place and it is amazing! I don’t think many people even know of its existence.

    p.p.s: I was joking about gnawing on the child. I’d much rather make him shoot his own child. Still kidding.

    • the s.a. project / Aug 7 2011 5:34 am

      Good LORD Usman! And because I know you’re quite mad I will excuse your ‘interesting but questionable’ suggestions. Besides, if there has to be torture involved, do it to the devil himself…why bring his innocent child in to it.

      On your secret adventure – did you take photographs?

  6. jgrozny / Aug 7 2011 7:24 am

    1984. Then they’ll burn books again.

  7. jgrozny / Aug 7 2011 7:27 am

    & I was at Shanakht Festival when the Pipliya goons went berserk. Ruined a perfect day. Still remember the poor Khiwalas smiling for once & calling it the best thing in the city in ages.

  8. Omar Ali / Aug 7 2011 2:40 pm

    The SHO’s willingness to slap a girl across gender and class divides is not a good sign…They were always ready to slap poor working women, but to slap around a female member of the sahib class indicates that the karma of the British Raj is on its last legs…and unfortunately nothing else is holding the administration in place…the people may still have access to other positive cultural strengths, but the administration is nothing if the British Raj is really gone..

    • Random Passerby / Aug 8 2011 10:49 am

      Yes, these are the fruits of democracy. The dirty, unwashed masses are finally realizing that they have the power to shape the future of this country, and the only obstacle in their way are the handful of brown elites who had replaced the white colonial masters. You should have supported the General and his project of “enlightened moderation”, when you had the chance. I am afraid that it is a bit too late now, as reactions to Salman Taseer’s and Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassinations have already demonstrated.

      • the s.a. project / Aug 8 2011 10:29 pm

        @Random Passerby

        Neither is this form of government in Pakistan ‘Democracy‘ nor was the General’s project ‘enlightened‘. We have been unfortunate enough to be stuck between two terrible leaderships and I refuse to pick sides on what we should have ‘stuck to and lived with.’

        The ‘dirty unwashed masses‘ you talk about are angry, but it is not THESE people involved in this case, or the murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. Please understand the problem before you say this is what we ‘asked for.’

      • Ali / Oct 16 2011 4:53 am

        Agreed 100%. This are the same people who laugh at the idea of enlightened moderation and then complain when they have to pay the price.

        These hypocrites are no better than extremists themselves.

    • the s.a. project / Aug 8 2011 10:22 pm

      @ Omar
      I do not think that this is the matter of being a member of the more privileged class or not.

      The country is now divided between vulnerable groups: Women, Children, Elderly, Malnourished,
      People who are ill, Low-income households, Religious Minorities, Ethnic Minorities, etc etc.

      It has become a matter of who can wield more power and this has automatically been abused by those in the government, policing agencies, army forces and armed citizens.

      And any incident like this, whether its against the vulnerable classes or the privileged ones, is wrong and unacceptable and must be rejected.

  9. Amal / Aug 7 2011 3:26 pm


    as the curator for Nairang i thank you for your support, however there are two fact to be remedied. 1.i was not assaulted for wearing sleeveless but for ASKING what the matter was. the S.H.O asked to see the person in charge of the gallery even though the problem was with the cafe and when i complied, i asked him “sir is there a problem?” and thats when he started lashing out. he screamed profanitys and commented on my sleevless shalwar kameez AFTER he hit me and he raided WITHOUT a warrent on the FALSE allegation of Nairang serving Sheesha, NOT hashish which is a drug.
    nonetheless this behavior is abominable! if the police harass those who are luckily supported by their society and family, what in the world do they do to thioe who are not so fortunate?

    • the s.a. project / Aug 7 2011 10:37 pm

      I am very pleased that you have responded Amal and cleared out some of the misconceptions of the actual event. The blogosphere is amok with all kinds of theories being hatched at the moment. The incident clearly is STILL abominable.

      Many brave young men and women are by your side and willing to protest this grotesque abuse of law. Whatever happens, through thick and thin, we wish that you remain safe from physical and mental harm. You will have to bear with a lot of nonsense appearing online and in print and I hope that you stay strong.

  10. Muhammad Abideen / Aug 7 2011 5:41 pm

    First of all belonging to the already small community we Art People have here, i was disgusted and shocked at the incident and worst at the rotten guts of the “Wardi-laden” cop to thrash a women, let alone a curator at one of the prominent art hub’s of Lahore.
    One more thing this also sends out a very positive message to all the folks who consider jobs like curating and so fourth safe and appropriate for women.
    All in all not only does this incident makes us re-focus to the ground realty but also the rising extremism prevalent in our system.
    P.S. All those who think this incident was an action against the westernization, should seriously consider getting themselves a good therapist!!

  11. Said Chaudhry / Aug 7 2011 11:38 pm

    These self appointed moral ‘policeman’ are a disgrace. I hope this story is followed up. Has there been any action taken against the SHO? He should be flogged publicly!
    re Amal: words can’t express the disgust and anger at these pigs. Stay strong buddy.

  12. Nameerah / Aug 8 2011 12:39 am

    This incident is appalling! As Amal says, even worse is the fact that much more horrendous behavior is shown to the less fortunate who have no support from friends and society. I shudder at the thought.

    — Nameerah

  13. umair / Aug 8 2011 7:31 am

    Extremely sad. Such incidents leave me spechless and heartbroken. If something is wrong, it needs to be investigated and justice served. This is barbaric.

    What most ppl might not agree with is the fact that it is our own fault. For staying quiet.

  14. Mohsin Shafi / Aug 8 2011 1:47 pm

    Vigilante violence in Pakistan isn’t new. Remember the attack on Colin David’s house?

    • the s.a. project / Aug 8 2011 6:08 pm

      Thanks for the link Moose!

      • omar / Aug 8 2011 7:20 pm

        Vigilante violence is not new, but slapping a female of the sahib class (without orders from a bigger sahib) in this casual manner is still new….if SHOs no longer feel constrained about slapping around the sahib’s women, then sahibs should start making plans….Of course, I could be just ignorant of past instances where a girl who clearly does NOT belong to the torturable classes was so publicly slapped around…are there other examples I dont know of? (and I am not counting instances where a big sahib got the police to humiliate some sahib no longer in favor).


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