150-year old British Law supports militants’ agenda against culture

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Lahore: Cultural festivities in Lahore, a cultural hub of Pakistan, have already been limited for last several years because of the threats by Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) And, the formality of getting no-objection certificate (NOC) is another big hurdle to facilitate those who are trying to keep culture alive especially in this city, various artists and culture-loving persons told News Lens Pakistan.

Briefing about history of NOC, former Chairman of Pakistan National Council of Arts, a state-run institution to promote culture, Tauqeer Nasir said, “NO-Objection Certificate was introduced in Sub Continent in 1860 by British Government to restrict any political movement or public gatherings against their rule. Government of Pakistan also continued with it soon after its inception in 1947.” He said it is unfortunate that the law, used by the British Rule against political opponents in India, is using to keep a check on cultural activities in Pakistan.

District Management is the authority that provides the applicant with NOC after examining event’s purpose and its impact on society. Police also shares this legal obligation as district coordination officer (DCO), a management official, refers the case to police to observe security concerns. According to rules and regulations, Police can take it back if it finds any security threat after visiting the event’s prospect, says Nasir.

Any public gathering or occurrence is correlated to two sections 144 and 145 of Criminal Procedural Code 1898. According to section 144, a magistrate is empowered to proscribe a congregation of more than ten people in an area.
Tariq Chauhan Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) in Lahore told News Lens Pakistan, “Section 145 can be imposed where we find fears of dispute or security concerns.” He said both district government and local police station can set aside any request under these sections or can facilitate aspirant with the NOC.

TV Actor and Director of Rafi Peer Theatre, Usman Peerzada said, “These sections were meant for political meetings, protests and processions to avoid security breach. Use of these section for music or drama festival is beyond my understanding.” He said NOC is not required in any country except Pakistan because our attitudes are purely anti culture.

Director of Ajoka Theatre and human rights activist Madeeha Gohar says, “Authorities have made the procedure of acquiring NOC really humiliating to us. First, we pay multiple visits to the district government’s office and then we are left at the local police officials’ mercy.” We really need to find out solution to facilitate artists and groups, trying to promote art and culture here, added Madeeha.

It is always shocking to organizers of any cultural event when they are all set to hold and a police official contacts them and tells that their NOC had been cancelled. This was exactly what happened to 13th International Sufi Festival, organized by Rafi Peer Theatre in December.

Organizer of the festival, Sadaan Peerzada said, “It was really embarrassing when police informed us about cancellation of NOC, issued to us for 13th International Sufi Festival at Alhamra Cultural Complex.” He said that state-run Lahore Arts Council was a partner and Punjab Governor Muhammad Sarwar was the chief guest at inaugural session where Syrian and Iranian music bands had to perform.

Governor Sarwar interfered and ensured inaugural of the session. He told media that he would make effort to abolish this obligation for cultural events.

Punjab Minister for Information and Culture Rana Arshad told News Lens Pakistan, “I am aware of difficulties to artists and organizers of cultural events and have already raised this issue in our Punjab’s cabinet meeting.” Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif promised to resolve the issue within legal framework, he added.

Now artists and culture-loving people intend to seek help from the court of law. Usman Peerzada said, “We will move to courts against this painful compulsion for those, entertain the masses and add smile on their faces.” He said Rafi Peer Theatre is not alone in this campaign but other celebrities and social activists like Madeeha Gohar also support him. “Once, militants have bombed our event in Lahore in 2008 to stop us and now district administration uses the obsolete law for the same purpose.”

It is pertinent to mention here that the most of religious groups do not bother to take NOCs from district administration for their processions and gatherings but nobody dares to stop them.

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