In Chitral, singing is a taboo for women

PESHAWAR: Chitral is home to fourteen languages, but no professional female singer. The valley, which shares much of its history with Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and is sometimes referred to as “Peri-istan” because of a common belief in ‘peris’ (fairies) inhabiting the mountains, has given only its male singers the right to make their voices heard in public. In Chitral, social taboo and local culture forbid females from pursuing a career in singing. While talking to The Express Tribune, Dr Inayatullah Faizi, a historian and senior columnist from Chitral, explains before Partition there were female singers and dancers in the valley. Women would organise concerts during cultural festivals and sing in front of an all-female audience at weddings, but all that changed when Chitral, once a self-autonomous princely state, became part of Pakistan and was made an administrative district in 1969. Soon after this, local religious leaders began exercising state power and changed the very structure of society in the valley, reveals Dr Faizi. Not easy for women to pursue music in Pakistan: Zoe Viccaji

PHOTO: Abdur Razzaq

Pakistan Broadcast Corporation (PBC) Chitral, established in 1993, was even threatened once by certain religious leaders for allowing a female to make on-air announcements, informs Dr Faizi. “Females therefore have no contribution in radio dramas and other programmes aired by PBC in Chitral,” he adds. It shows how rigid the culture of Chitral is towards female participation in public places,” reports the historian. But this was not always the case. Previously each village appointed a “charvelue”, an area in-charge, but once clerics became powerful entities, imposing a ban on female singers, they disappeared, informs Dr Faizi. “Ghizer, a district in G-B that was once controlled by the state of Chitral, still has females singing in Khowar language during festivals,” he reveals. Among these popular festivals are Phindik, observed in June, and Geeve, observed in December and January, he adds. We want to be entertained by female singers but won’t let our daughters sing: Quratulain Baloch The girls in Ghizer learn singing from older women. In Chitral, poetry and songs in Gawarbati and Domeli languages has always played a significant role in culture and even religious scholars and community elders attend musical programmes where songs are sung in these two languages, reports Dr Faizi. But unfortunately, thus far only anthropological studies have been carried out on the absence of female singers in Chitral by locals and British researchers, states Dr Faizi.


Twenty-years-old Chitrali woman Shagufta Saleem, who studies at the University of Peshawar, is among the many women in the valley whose singing talent might forever remain under wraps. While talking to The Express Tribune, Saleem reveals she loves nature and wants to express the beauty of nature through songs. She’s been singing since childhood in front of females in her family and classmates, but has never been able to take up singing professionally. “In our community it is forbidden for women to sing in front of men,” she reveals. “If women took part in concerts, we could produce more female musicians and keep Chitrali culture and poetry alive,” she stresses. Saleem also wishes to be able to one day provide a platform for all women in the valley to showcase and polish their musical abilities. Our depiction of women is one dimensional: Meesha Shafi Saleem prefers classical melodies and always wanted to become a classical singer, but her future plans were always met with strong disapproval from her parents. While she continues to write poems and sings her own lyrics during family functions, that burning desire to perform on a bigger stage is still strong she says. “Writing poetry is my hobby which is acceptable in my community, but [if I were to become a musician] that would be met with strong criticism,” says laments. Even today Saleem cannot take up the topic of singing with her parents. “Though I love music, but for my parents I will sacrifice my desire to pursue singing,” she concludes.

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