Gypsy mela and women expo: Folk songs, handicrafts and women’s rights
By Aroosa Shaukat
LAHORE: Displaying handicrafts produced by local women, the Children’s Library Complex echoed with music from the heart of the Cholistan Desert, as Krishan Lal Bhail performed folk songs on Tuesday at the Gypsy Mela and Women Expo.
The mela has been organised by the Social Welfare Department in collaboration with Godh, an NGO working for the welfare of the gypsy community. As many as 56 stalls have been set up.
The first day of the event featured a colourful performance by Bhail and his troupe that presented folk dresses and songs. Bhail told The Express Tribune such events highlighted the ‘true culture’ of the land. Bhail, currently, teaches music in Cholistan. He said he had dedicated his life to God, “my life is now about singing and praising the Lord.”
Bhail claimed he was familiar with 15 regional languages. Wearing a yellow dress and a turban, he said he often visited Lahore to take part in cultural events. “Our music and singing are deep, not loud like it Lahore,” said Bhail adding “but even that has a soul of its own.”
Ram Chand Rehmi, a member of Bhail’s troupe, said he was visiting Lahore for the first time. Having performed along side Bhail for 20 years, Rehmi said though they sang in many local languages, he enjoyed singing in his mother tongue, Rajasthani-Marwari, the most.
Social Welfare Department Deputy District Officer Ashraf Janjua said the gypsy community was one of the most neglected in the country. Out of more than 1,000 NGOs currently registered under the Social Welfare Department in the Lahore district, Janjua said only 50 NGOs had participated in the event. Janjua said that the expo, held every year, is meant to commemorate Women’s Day, celebrated in March, and also offer the gypsy community a platform to interact with the non-gypsy public and exhibit their talents. Janjua said 40 NGOs had set up a stall each under the auspices of the Social Welfare Department while 16 stalls had been set up by Godh.
Showcasing the work of girls at the Society Vocational Institute in Mughalpura, Lahore, Haleema Ikhlaq said the institute served to empower young girls. “We learn various skills at the centre at a very reasonable fee,” said 21-year-old Ikhlaq who will be completing a three-month course at the centre in April. Ikhlaq was displaying ‘jute pots’, priced between Rs800 and Rs1,000. She said she was learning to work with jute at the centre.
“We are doing our part by creating awareness among people regarding women’s rights,” said Maa Welfare Society field officer Saira Bashir. Bashir, who has been working at the NGO for four years, said it had been working on projects for the welfare of women and children in Cholistan and Rajanpur.
Gulab Ahmed’s stall was a reflection of his homeland, Thar. Ahmed said the people of Lahore ‘valued culture’ and that alone made the 50-hour journey to the city worthwhile. From embroidered kurtas and bags to bed sheets, Ahmed’s stall displayed the works of the women of his village.
“We are here to educate people about mental health,” said Amir Farooqi, an occupational therapist at the Fountain House – Institute for Mental Health. Farooqi said patients at Fountain House took workshops to hone their skills for which they had a natural inclination. He said training was currently available in pottery, painting, woodcraft and embroidery. Speaking with The Express Tribune, Mohammad Arshad Mughal, a former patient at the Fountain House, said he had been associated with them for nine years. Now working as a training co-coordinator at the institute, Mughal said it was necessary to provide such opportunities to patients to help them grow.
Advisor to the Punjab Chief Minister Begum Zakia Shahnawaz, who inaugurated the expo, said such events helped women focus on their issues and should be tailored to address the needs of the gypsy community across the district.
Children’s Library Complex programme manager Abdullah Mahmood Bhatti said that the event had been organised in collaboration with the Children’s Library Complex so there had been no rental charged for the use of the space. Bhatti said the Children’s Library Complex had also facilitated security for the event. The event ends today and runs from 9am to 5pm.