London, Dec 13: The dancing girls of Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, have gone on strike to protest against the ban on 'Mujra'. Last month, Lahore High Court had imposed a ban on the graceful and elaborate dance- first developed in the Mughal courts 400 years ago- on the grounds that it is 'too sexually explicit'.
The revolt sparked in the protest against the tide of Talibanisation that is threatening to destroy the art form.
"The Mujra by its very nature is supposed to be a seductive dance," The Independent quoted Badar Alam, a cultural expert as saying.
He recalls that attempts were made to ban it during the 1980s.
"Gradually, it returned to commercial theatre, mostly by paying off officials. The question remains: does the government have the right to engage in moral policing?" he added.
However, due to the strike and the lack of enthusiasm for alternative entertainment, the court has been forced to suspend its ban.
It has ordered dancers to cover their necks with shawls and wear shoes (they used to dance barefoot but the court deemed that too erotic).
"Do they expect girls to dance in a burkha?" Stage manager Jalal Mehmoud said.
"Mujra has been going on for so many years it is part of our culture," he added.
The government and the HC have tried to encourage "family friendly" dances, but once 'houseful' theatres are now near empty, despite a cut in their prices from 300 rupees to 25 rupees a seat.
The dancers are finding it hard to cope with the situation.
"Theatre needs dance like food needs water," said Rabia, a dancer and actress. Some girls were making up to 15,000 rupees in one night. Hundreds of these girls from poorer backgrounds will be out of the work if the crowds do not come back," she added.
According to Alam, the ban on dance is a symptom of a more dangerous trend in Pakistani society.
"If the government engages in moral policing, it gives vigilantes licence to do the same. It fuels intolerance and de-secularisation by violence and intimidation and opens the door to extreme Jihadi Islamic movements," he added.