DevelopmentGilgit - BaltistanPakistan

Pictory VI: The Musician Tribes of Gilgit – Baltistan

by Noor

Our beautiful valleys reverberate with ecstatic sounds of the drum and melodious voice of the pipe, while the hypnotic human yells echo, synchronized with the sounds of clapping and laughter, and we dance, celebrating this or that event. Quite a large number of people notice the three musicians, or more, that are producing these wonderful rhythms of sound. They play the instruments, we dance. But as the sounds of the music recede, the importance of these musicians also dwindles, unfortunately. For decades they have enhanced our happiness and we their suffering. Many among us consider them inferior, even if their art is the nectar of our happiness and their mastery of this art exemplary, unmatchable.

All rhetoric about the teachings of Islam and humanity come trembling down, as one looks at the plight of the thousands of musicians – by – inheritance in different parts of Gilgit – Baltistan and other parts of the country. Our contemporary and ancient societies have systematically discriminated against these artists, their families and, always, considered them as the other, the inferiors, practically, the creatures of a lesser god!

Such attitude towards the master musicians who have not only given us wonderful music but are also custodians of a language that is unique to them!!

The ancient and existing social systems of hatred, ridicule, neglect and discrimination directed at them have affected these fellow human beings to the extent that not only they refuse to share their language with rest of us, they also don’t communicate in the language of their ancestors, inside their homes. Seldom have groups of human beings suffered so much at the hands of their fellow human beings.

There has been a slight shift in attitudes, over the past decade. KADO deserves appreciation for starting the initiative that asked willing youngsters to train as traditional musicians.

Today, playing musical instruments is no more a hereditary profession. However, we need to reflect and see as to how much our attitude changed towards the master artists and what strategies need to be devised to make them dignified part of our social life?

Let’s discuss.

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  1. Thanks Noor for inviting our attention to reflect on such an important social dilemma. You reminded me of the days when, being a public speaker, I used to talk regarding this issue in Jamat Khana in my village taking a pluralistic approach. My former village Shishkat has a component of the population you are talking about. Since my childhood I have seen them being excluded from almost every sphere of the public life. They were taken as a metaphor to depict inferiority. I remember people used to make fun of their language and accent. It is indeed very sad that we forced them to suffer.

    However, in the recent decade, we have been observing a positive shift in the societal attitudes towards them. Particularly the young generation has been able to play a proactive and effective role. I think the younger people are more on the inclusive side than their ancestor. We cannot undermine the positive role of education in creating awareness and bringing openness in this regard.

    We need to realize that regardless of the historical and cultural underpinnings, our these brothers and sisters also bear the divine spark which is common to all humans. No thing is beyond than that. They equally deserve to be respected and dignified. It is a matter of creating awareness in the public emphasizing on the universal messages of human equity and equality. Realizing the urgent need, at least the AKDN and the Jamati institution should take a stand for them. Through their various strategies they can make efforts to enable these people enter into the social and public realm in a much more confident way. The institutions should also encourage these people to become self confident about their cultural heritage. They need to be encouraged and enabled for retaining their heritage such as the music and their language and feel proud about their identity.

  2. Well said Safina, I agree with your points and it is really a social dilemma that such discriminations still exist in form and if not visible in essense though.

    This reminds me of a huge gathering in Hunza where large number of leaders and public representatives from all over Hunza participated. Organzied by KADO in 2002 OR 2003, this event was dedicated to the great musician Ustad Kalb-e-Ali who had been playing the pipe for 60 years. This was perhaps for the first time in the history of Hunza that a muscian was the guest of honor and he handed over his Surnai (pipe) to Karim who has been shown in the image above. The programme had a big message which was perhaps not understood properly. You are right we still need a lot of sensitization to eliminate such discriminations.

    Sultan Ahmed

  3. KADO has conducted a socio-economic survey which also includes a section regarding the dialect/language. It was really surprising for me that majority of people from this tribe have mentioned Burushaski as their mother tonge not Domaaki.

    This trend indicates that the people from this tribe might loose their identities during next decade. This is also a source of shame for all of us as we always claim a highly educated society for Hunza.

    Zulfiqar Ali Khan

  4. To break a taboo is not an easy thing. To break a taboo requires a great deal of moral and intellectual courage. Once broken it disturbs age old beliefs, assumptions, and frames of mind and supplants outdated notions with rays of hope for a better future. By inviting a public debate on this topic you have sought to crack the foundations of a taboo topic. I suggest that whatever comes out of this discussion should be used to inform any policy decisions vis-à-vis the musician clans in Giligit-Baltistan.

    Admittedly the class of musicians who have not only preserved great tunes of our folk music but they have also revitalised the culture of GB with their enthusiasm and creativity. Now, it falls on the shoulders of responsible,, politically aware, justice seeking conscious citizens of our society who should now jettison degenerate remnants of our heritage. No culture is an island and no culture is perfect. As history is great witness in the evolution of civilisation, when men of higher standard have always tried to purge human society for all sorts of discriminations and difference. Prophets, Imams, great sages, men of virtue men of knowledge and men of compassion have waged struggles to remind humanity, time and again, to reveal the fundamental message, that all beings are created equal. It is the unfortunate course of history in which power, interests and politics create conditions in which as George Orwell said, ‘some people become more equal than others. ‘in such times we must not forget the wise leadership exemplified by Hazart Ali when he was sending Malik Asthar to Egypt he had advised him to treat the people fairly and equally since they were ‘either brothers in religion or equals in creations.’

    Bata Qadiro who was known to be a shrewd, sharp-witted, and a wise figure in the rather colourful history of Hunza. His machinations, strategies for political manourevirng, advice to the local Thams, and above all his sense of humour are legendry. Qadiro’s famous solutions to complicated riddles sent from Nagar across the Hunza River, in an era of inter-state rivalry, are today remembered with a measure of awe and inspiration in literary circles of Burushaksi speaking people in Hunza and elsewhere. Like his answers to the riddles sent from Nagar, today Qadiro’s name and legacy could be symbolically used for a progressive and fruitful engagement with the community in which he was born.

    While there have been little attention paid to the plight of the class of musicians in GB, it is time now to appreciate tier identity, and accept them as for who they are. Before passing judgements of any sorts and also before waging greater struggles of emancipation, rights and justice in our wider region, we should now begin to dress our home in order, first.

  5. Dear Noor
    Thanks for putting this issue here on PT. You know that how much anxious i was to let this topic to be discussed.
    we all have to accept one thig that we do have discrimination and hatred in one way or other against musicians. Baji Safina has well quoted that they are used as metaphors and examples to depict some hatred or feability. It even has roots existing in our socity in this century of development.
    Me being a Shishkati has observed all the things going on against thier culture, hertitage, language and skills, even getting benifits from them,we call them as a curse. We the villagers blaim them of being weak family, the coward ones and the bad charactered, and the outsiders make fun of us of being thier villagemates. What i found is that they are hard working, regular in prayers, coperative and competative.
    As zulfiqar bhai has pointed out that they didn’t describe Domaki as thier mother tongue,so there lies some reason,we have discouraged thier language. Has the WTCA or the academy working on brushaski ever tried to consider them as participants in any program?where every language is said to be encouraged. It means the people who are running the society are also responsible for this.
    We the youngsters of Shishkat have started taking action against this dilemma since 2007 when we made the Domakis our special part of the stage in Eid Milan Program by requesting them to expose their language by singing to the audience with pride and joy. we further beautified their culture and language by a small commentary about the language. It doesn’t means that we have done something impossible or am praising our youngsters. what i mean to say is, come do some thing and make a difference.

  6. I fully agree with what has been said by the worthy commentators., however a few points to add as under:

    People of the erstwhile Hunza state as a whole, being subjects of an autocratic system and members of a class-based society, have suffered to varying degrees; on the baisis of caste, creed, ethnicity, tribe, vocation, political orientation, etc. But all that is things of past now, as because of societal transformation of Hunza due to mass education (thanks to DJ schools system) and major portion of its population’s exposure to external environments in down country. The remaining tabos are graudally fading out in Hunza, as we slowly tread on the path to equitable development (hats off to AKDN institutions). People of Hunza are no more subjects of any state, they are rather citizens of Pakistan. the whole scenario has changed for a better one.

    The traditional musicians and artisans belonging to a particular minority group, used to and still are adding tremendous value to our social and vocational activities, they therefore, richly deserve our gratitude and respectful gestures to them. it is heatening to note that many young people in the villages, particularly the Band group members have been learning the music and performing it publically at social events, which once was considered to be a tabo and a profession the particular group.

    Lately the AKDN/ jamaati institutions and other civil society organizations have been following a strategy of inclusion, rather than exclusion to main-stream the particular group in the context of Hunza. Social transformation is slow and painful process, but the process has already started, which is a very encouraging sign. Let’s hope for the better in the days to come and do our bits to change and remove the ugly faces of exploitation.

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