Punjab govt inaction on art gallery incident slammed -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Punjab govt inaction on art gallery incident slammed

By: Afnan Khan

LAHORE: Human rights activists slammed the Punjab government for not taking any action against the Shadman police station’s Station House Officer (SHO), Rana Zulfiqar, who manhandled and misbehaved with the female curator, staffers and customers of the Nairang Art Gallery.

The incident took place a few days before Ramazan, when the SHO entered the famous Nairang Art Gallery situated on the Jail Road and started abusing the customers, including females. He also physically tortured the female curator of the gallery for wearing a sleeveless shirt and interacting with men as an administrator of the place.

He not only physically abused the young curator but also accused the gallery’s administration of spreading obscenity. Also, he abused the customers, including young females, for visiting the gallery to have meals or to watch the artworks on display in the gallery.

However, Punjab government’s spokesperson Senator Pervaiz Rashid told Daily Times that the government has taken strict notice of the incident by issuing a show cause notice to the concerned SHO. He said that the government was not directing the cops to do such things and these were their individual actions.

Meanwhile, sources from within the Shadman Police Station told Daily Times that the said SHO was freely enjoying his powers in the police station and he had also been recently appointed by the government to ensure security in the Ashiana Housing Scheme (AHS).

Separately, a senior lawyer, rights activist and founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Hina Jilani, told Daily Times that such activities were aimed at crushing the barely surviving cultural scene in the country, adding that the rulers of Punjab had inherited this phenomenon from Ziaul Haq’s reign. “If they (cops) had done the same thing with Shahbaz Sharif’s daughter, would they only be issuing a show cause notice to the SHO?” Hina questioned, adding that there should have been a criminal inquiry against Rana Zulfiqar and he should have been terminated from the job.

Hina added that the incident was a clear example of how the politicians were using police to suppress the public and execute their own agendas.

She said that Ziaul Haq’s legacy had already made us a horrible nation and the provincial rulers were trying to discourage the remaining few who were still associated with their culture and civilisation by harassing them.

Centre for Human Rights Education Director Samson Salamat told Daily Times that the SHO had violated the right of recreation and privacy of the citizens, which are promised to the citizens in both the Constitution of Pakistan and in the international law and he should have been held under criminal charges for doing so. The incident again exposed the presence of religious extremism in police, which led to the assassination of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer a few months ago when his own guard from the Elite Force sprayed bullets on him, he said.

“There must be an independent inquiry of the incident because the citizens do not believe in the impartiality of the Punjab government,” Salamat said.

Art galleries and other such cultural outlets are places where intellectuals and liberals join together to create art and to think about the problems our country is facing and this kind of police harassment was only aimed at keeping the students and intellectuals away from art and culture, he added.

Talking to Daily Times, owner of the gallery, Nayyer Ali Dada, said that he had written letters to the CM, Inspector General of Punjab Police and the CCPO to take notice of the incident but none of them had taken any concrete action against the SHO and his accomplices so far.

He said that he was still in shock and could not understand why a cop would go to such lengths to beat a female curator and harass others, including his own son, by raiding the art gallery. The employees in the art gallery also told Daily Times that the female curator was so frightened after the incident that she was neither coming to the job nor responding to any phone calls.

Meanwhile, SHO Rana Zulfiqar abstained from commenting on the issue despite several attempts of contact. His subordinates responded to one of the phone calls, saying that the SHO was taking rest after a hectic day’s duty.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had also issued a statement regarding the incident, terming it as “alarming” and sought tough action against the SHO.

“Excesses by policemen are hardly an anomaly in Pakistan but since when have the policemen assumed the responsibility of the Taliban?” the commission’s statement questioned.
Source: Daily Times
Date:8/8/2011