From queen to pauper

The latest pawn in ongoing Af-Pak tensions comes in the form of Zarsanga, the Queen of Pashtun Folklore. The singer was the victim of a violent robbery. But this was no act of opportunism by stealth. This was payback for an unresolved money dispute, a rumoured unpaid loan.

It is unacceptable that Zarsanga — who has been routinely and effusively described as a precious folk artist and a source of pride and joy for Pakistan — is living out her later years in a state of poverty. It is more than unacceptable. It is criminal. Especially considering that the Lok Virsa had earlier this year named one of its halls after her, a befitting tribute to her contribution to the living arts. We are happy to learn that Dr Fouzia Saeed, the Lok Virsa’s executive director, has appealed to the KP government to ensure that justice is done, beginning with the registration of an FIR.

Yet this raises the bigger question of how Pakistan treats its artists in their old age, especially women. Zarsanga epitomises the liberal feminist cause. Yet she had fallen off many a collective radar, for serving no concrete purpose to timely agendas. This is not an outright criticism but rather a somewhat unquiet observation. Yet we cannot and nor do we hold feminist groups wholly responsible. For while it is their ‘job’ to lobby the relevant authorities to hear entreaties for the protection of certain rights — no one but the state can be held accountable for its own apathy.

This is the reality of today’s Pakistan. The arts are not recognised for their intrinsic value. Nor are they recognised as being a legitimate means of showing the rest of the world the so-called soft face of the country. This is shameful. As is the failure of the state in developing local culture, especially through manifestation of local languages.

We, for one, would in no way hold it against Zarsanga if she were to take up the offers rushing in from across the border to up sticks and move to Afghanistan. We would, however, blame the Pakistani state.  *

Published in Daily Times, July 27th 2017.

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