Leading Pakistani artistes have joined hands against the government’s decision to impose curbs on travelling to India, saying they have the right to approach the Supreme Court to oppose the order to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) to visit the neighbouring country.
Samina Ahmed, Madiha Gauhar, Usman Pirzada and other theatre artistes and actors have protested the decision, saying Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s announcement that they would require an NOC from the government to travel abroad was a huge disappointment to all those who are “fighting for a liberal and democratic Pakistan”. The move will take Pakistan back to the era of late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq, when such NOCs were a norm, the artistes said.
It was also disappointing that the Pakistan People’s Party-led government was behind the move, they said. Gauhar, who heads the well-known Ajoka Theatre group and regularly visits India, said, “We find this announcement retrogressive, repressive, arbitrary and a violation of the fundamental rights protected by the Constitution. The government has absolutely no right to restrict the movement of people who are not even employed by it.”
“The declaration clearly lacks any rationale and is patently mala fide. We, therefore, defy it as all void orders lacking legal basis should be dealt with. We also reserve the right to agitate this matter before the Supreme Court for enforcement of our fundamental rights,” she said.
Gauhar described the government’s decision as a “totally undemocratic move”. She added, “We will move the Supreme Court after consultations with lawyers.” Journalists should also be part of the struggle the artistes would wage as they had been asked to obtain NOCs for travelling abroad, Gauhar said. The announcement was like a “flashback to the Zia regime when artistes were hostage to NOCs”, she added.
Ahmed and Pirzada said artistes were ambassadors of Pakistan and they always strived to bring a good name to the country. Playwright Asghar Nadeem Syed said artistes, being representatives of culture and heritage, travelled and performed abroad as part of a global cultural panorama. He said the restriction imposed by the government would be understandable if it was applied only in some individual cases, but its “general application to the entire fraternity was beyond any rationale”.
The government announced the move in the wake of the brief detention of singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in India on charges of possession undeclared foreign currency. Former Pakistan National Council of Arts Chief Naeem Tahir, in an apparent reference to Khan, said it was a pity that the government was “stabbing the whole community of artistes” just because of one artiste.