LokVirsa:revitalising the pluralist culture in Pakistan

LokVirsa:revitalising the pluralist culture in Pakistan

It is a pleasure to see the government appoint credible people in some key institutes. In doing so, it has been able to showcase some highly visible results, particularly by backing up the prime minister’s personal efforts to promote cultural pluralism and democratic values. One of the shining examples has been the transformation of the Pakistan National Institute of Folk Culture and Heritage, better known as LokVirsa (the premier Government institution to preserve and promote folk heritage).

Owed entirely to the institute’s renewed vigour, the American “Smithsonian Institution”recently agreed to team up with LokVirsa and the Interactive Resource Center (IRC), a Lahore-based media group, on a joint project.

LokVirsa has just completed Lok (Folk)Festival successfully which is a shining example of the positive changes that have been introduced by LokVirsa’s Executive Director, Dr FouziaSaeed (renowned Folklorist), over the past two years.

This year’s Folk Festival organised by LokVirsa was anoutstanding example of the reclaiming of cultural space. It was the largest in the history of the organisation.Over 150,000 people attended the 12 days of events, well-produced stage production, over 700 folk artisans at work, folk theatre, book stalls, dance groups and several innovative displays of traditional culture from all over Pakistan. In addition, the organisation earned ten million Pakistani rupees.

True to its purpose to preserve and promote the folk heritage of Pakistan, LokVirsaorganised different programmes each night, beginning with a pre-festival celebration of Nowruz.This was the third time LokVirsa officially celebrated Nowruz. LokVirsa earlier prompted UNESCO to include Pakistan as among those countries classed internationally as Nowroz celebrants.

The festival programmes also included a celebration of Vaisakhi, a traditional Punjabi spring harvest festival and Pakistan Constitution Day.This is also the third consecutive year Constitution Day hasbeen celebrated in song and dance at the Folk Festival. At each of these occasions, Chairman of the Senate, Mian Raza Rabbani served as the chief guest for the programme. After closely observing all the geographic units of Pakistan engaged in a joint rendition of amusical piece called“DasturKe Ashiq (Lovers of the Constitution)”, Senator Rabbani reminded the audience that efforts like these are exactly in line with the National Action Plan (NAP).  He urged that more cross-cultural collaboration like this is what will help Pakistan to defeat the militants who, through their ideology of narrow-minded intolerance, are engaged in pulling the country apart. He said music and close relations among our diverse people could bring us together.

During the darker periods of Pakistan’s history, cultural institutes were ignored, becoming victims of neglect, nepotism and corruption. LokVirsa was one of these neglected centres.However, during the past two years under the dynamic leadership of Dr Fouzia Saeed, a noted author and activist on Pakistani social issues, the institute has transformed itself from a debilitated and corrupt shellinto a vibrant hub of cultural activity.  

Of course, any attempt to change deep-seated practices of corruption will always face a strong reaction from those within the organisation and in seats of power who have profited from past malfeasance. Dr Fouzia has faced more than her share of phoney slanders in the press, bureaucratic constraints, court cases andeven trumped-up police reports against her. Despite the obstacles, the enthusiasm shown by the public at the 2017FolkFestival indicates the Institute is steadily becoming a beacon of light for those who are intent on crafting a new progressive narrative for the people of Pakistan.

One of the unique steps taken by the LokVirsa leadership has been to extend its support to the cultural institutes of the provincial governments in the true essence of devolution, strengthened by the 18th Amendment to the Pakistan’s constitution. LokVirsa has organised manyspecial programmes with the individual provinces.LokVirsa supported communities to showcasethe unique cultural aspects of each province in an overall effort to promote pluralistic values and to reclaim creative social spaces.

It is clear that LokVirsa is set to continue leading a plural cultural revival in Pakistan, which was under threat from many decades.But during the tenure of an inspirational woman, Dr Fouzia Saeed, LokVirsa has definitely played a significant role in bringing unity in diversity and countering the ideology of terrorism.

The writer is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and activist. He can be reached at haseebdigital@yahoo.com TW @haseeb__khawaja