Rafiullah and Rizwan Mehsud

SWAT: Swat’s Banr street is famous for producing popular Pashto singers and dancers. It has a long history of producing eminent singers who in their career, earned a vast fan base stretching from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Baluchistan and southern Afghanistan to a broad Pakhtun diaspora around the globe.

At present, some 30 families are living in this particular street. Singing and dancing are their profession and source of livelihood. But the past few months were quite tough for the entire community.

The coronavirus pandemic severely affected their livelihoods. Since the holding of wedding functions and music programs were strictly banned by the government under the countrywide lockdown, they hardly performed in any event and thus could not earn a living.

Hina, a promising young singer and dancer, is however excited that the government lifted the lockdown and allowed the holding of music functions in wedding ceremonies.

“If the lockdown had continued for another month, we would have started begging,” she remarks in an interview with TNN.

“We spent whatever we had earned earlier and had to borrow hundreds of thousands of rupees from people to manage our needs. Thankfully, the lockdown is over and the situation is turning better slowly and gradually and we are coming back on our job,” she continues.

Hina, now 15, has formerly adopted dancing as a profession and has been trying hard to master the art and bring perfection to her performance. She is a bit apprehensive about the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and fears it may affect the Banr community.

She says she has not adopted the dancing profession by will rather she started it in a state of extreme helplessness. “Singing and dancing is our source of livelihood. We don’t have any alternate source of income. None of my family members does any job or business. My family relies on my earnings,” she maintains.

Hina’s younger sister Hajira has also started learning the art of dancing and sometimes performs along with her in music programs. With their dance, they not only entertain people but also earn money to feed their family.

Over the years, Banr’s population has squeezed to 30 families. The former ruler of the erstwhile Swat State Mian Gul Abdul Haq Jehanzeb had relocated the families associated with the singing and dancing profession to the Banr street. Initially, they happened to be more than 50 families but some of them migrated and settled in other parts of the Swat district while others moved to bigger cities.

Unlike Hina, her neighbor Uzma Fayaz has adopted singing as a profession and she wants to emulate renowned singer Nazia Iqbal, who also came out from the same locality. She is also worried about the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Whenever this street is deserted, it not only brings economic depression but mental stress and anxiety also surround the local residents. I wish people frequently visit so that we may perform and provide them entertainment. I wish the hustle and bustle of this street never diminish,” she remarks.

Uzma says she used to arrange singing parties at her house besides performing in music functions at wedding ceremonies, which earned her enough money in return but the corona pandemic lockdown affected her profession severely. “Fortunately, the lockdown is over and the business is going well,” she maintains.

Like the Banr community, artistes in other parts of the province particularly the merged districts have also been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic and the lockdown multiplied the miseries of the artistes of the merged districts who have already suffered due to militancy.

Maqsood Mehsud, a singer from the South Waziristan tribal district says he had started recovering from the militancy effects when the coronavirus pandemic spread.

“The local administration had imposed a strict lockdown and was not allowing anyone to hold a concert,” Mehsud informs. “I earn from singing and it is the lone source of my livelihood. I faced tough times in managing my home expenses,” he adds.

He says the government should announce a special relief package for the artistes’ community as they cannot ask people for financial assistance. He regrets that the government didn’t take notice of their miseries.

The lockdown also affected the cultural gatherings of Pakhtuns they usually hold on the occasions of marriages in their vast and spacious hujras. Malik Saif ur Rahman from South Waziristan says that tribal people arrange functions on wedding ceremonies and other festivities and participate in traditional dance, locally known as atanr but they had to abandon all such activities during the pandemic lockdown due to the fear of corona outbreak. He is, however, excited that the lockdown is lifted and the situation is getting better.

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