Lahore's Alhamra Executive Director Saleem Saghar Sacked For Failing To Check 'Vulgar Dances'

Saghar is accused of not controlling obscene dance performances on stage in Lahore despite repeated warnings by the information ministry

Lahore's Alhamra Executive Director Saleem Saghar Sacked For Failing To Check 'Vulgar Dances'

The Punjab government, by order of the governor, has transferred Mohammad Saleem Saghar, Executive Director of Lahore Arts Council, with immediate effect and has directed him to report to the Services and General Administration Department – for failing to check recent indecent dance performances at the Alhamra in Lahore.

A senior official told The Friday Times that FIR against two dancers, Shama Rana and Payal Chaudhry, has been registered in the Civil Lines police station, and "raids have been made for their arrest," said a police official at the Civil Lines police station.

How do drama producers dodge authorities? 

The producers are expected to share scripts of dramas with the Arts Council officials across Punjab, including Alhamra in Lahore, where the scripts are scrutinised. A no-objection certificate is issued if it is cleared on the grounds of vulgarity. 

However, he noted, "Drama producers don't include indecent dances in scripts submitted with the Lahore Arts Council or in shows staged for the censor board."

He also said that Saghar was warned at least thrice before by Amir Mir, Minister for Information and Culture, but he failed to stop the vulgar shows. 

A senior official told The Friday Times that rules related to performing arts are likely to be amended, whereby an indecent performance could be banned for ten years and charged heavy fines. "Dancers accused of obscene performances are being closely watched," he said.  

In his press statement, Amir Mir stated that he has prohibited commercial plays at Alhamra on the Mall Road in Lahore and has revoked bookings for all such plays. 

Mir has expressed that the Alhamra on Mall Road in Lahore will be reserved for literary and cultural endeavours.

However, commercial stage performances will continue at Alhamra Cultural Complex in Gaddafi Stadium under strictly defined boundaries and regulations.

On public demand

A stage performer said that they include obscene moves in their dances on public demand. "We get invited to perform at private parties and fix a high rate for our participation based on our dance moves," she added. 

Checks on obscenity

Bilal Haider, Executive Director Punjab Council of Arts (PUCAR), in his letter to divisional and deputy directors of the PUCAR on August 12, stated it was the council's obligation to promote art and culture while preserving cultural values. "As the regulatory arm of the government, PUCAR is duty-bound to cease and apprehend any such immoral and profane practice, prohibited under the law," the letter said. 

The letter has directed field directors to visit all commercial theatres in their jurisdiction to monitor violations of the Punjab Culture Policy 2022 and to report such incidents to the head office within 24 hours, along with pictorial/video evidence. They were also directed to report incidents to the concerned deputy commissioners so they could take necessary actions under the law. 

In his letter, Haider has urged directors to lead the inspection teams to check obscenity – "Any laxity in this regard may lead to strict disciplinary action against the Divisional Director for professional negligence and inefficiency. As, such unchecked trend may bring in a bad name to the government and adversely affects the public confidence in their government." 

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy.