Banning Dance in Punjab?

An interesting debate is shaping up after the Express Tribune published this item in the newspaper, claiming that the Punjab government had banned dance in school events. Both Pakistani and Indian songs have been banned, according to the news item, on special occasions like school assemblies, parents’ day, and national holidays. “The Punjab government said that public dancing was an immoral act which strays away from religious norms,” reads the newspaper article.

When I posted the link, the Twitter accounts of both the Government of Punjab and the Chief Minister’s Special Reforms Unit tweeted me to tell me this is untrue news, unverified by Express Tribune before being published.

However, another Twitter user immediately posted what looks like a notification from the Attock district which explicitly bans “dance on school functions”, singling out girls dancing to Indian songs.

 

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It’s a stretch to call this a ban on dance in all Punjabi schools, but it is a worrying trend, if true. Although “Indian songs” are always seen as particularly obscene by our bureaucracy and theocracy (although the same people thoroughly enjoy the same songs when they watch Indian movies and go to mendhis), it isn’t limited only to Indian songs. Any kind of dance activity at any age group seems to be “against Islamic principles and teachings.”

But what about dancing to children’s songs, or simply instrumental music? How about dance as a form of physical exercise, art, self-expression, creative play? What about our indigenous folk songs and folk dances? Our Sufi poetry and kalaam?

We are still waiting for a response from the Government of Punjab and the Chief Minister’s SRU on the subject. Indeed, the sexualisation of children is a problem in all societies, and with the child sexual abuse rampant in Pakistan, steps must be taken to protect children from being exploited. But whoever authored this notification needs to learn to differentiate between children performing at a school event and sex workers performing at a mujra.

Unfortunately in Pakistan we have enough small-minded people who conflate the two. Going after schools in this manner is a lot easier than cracking down on the illegal sex trade, on child pornography, or on mujras with underage girls or bacha-bazi, both of which are much more prevalent than innocent school dance performances (the latter is present all over Pakistan, not just in Peshawar and the Northwest).

Banning dance in schools isn’t going to solve any of our problems.

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