This is the resting place of a great Malamti Sufi Poet Baba Bulleh Shah (1680 to 1790) in Qasur, Pakistan. Every year in August, people come here from all over Punjab and Pakistan to celebrate his work and person. Bulleh Shah is part of the proud tradition of South Asia that nurtures equality and celebrates diversity; that takes a clear stand against discrimination on the basis of religion, sexuality, race and gender.
Bullah in his verses taught us that people who follow different religions or are born into them, are equal; that organized religions are discriminatory idealogies; and through his life, he showed us that the highest form of spirituality may sometimes reveal itself in gay love; that whatever our race, the basic fact that must rule is that we are all human beings; and though he did not preach feminism, i have yet to read a verse written by him that smacks of gender discrimination. Then why, in the name of Bullah, women are not allowed to set foot in his shrine?
The red line on the right highlights the notice that says that women are not allowed to go beyond that point; that means we can not go through the door, can not touch the stone that surrounds Bullah or pick up a couple of flowers from the top; and, we can not receive a rose and jasmine garland from the caretaker inside.
The two lines on the left, frame a part of Bullah’s verse now etched in stone but still not heeded. He says, and like most of Bullah’s verses, this one is also known to people throughout Punjab by heart, ‘Jis tun lugeya ishq kamal, naachay bay sur tay bay taal’. It means a body that has been touched by devotional love, dances without rythm and without beat or out of rythm and out of beat.
The line on the floor shows how far i can go; and, the person standing smack in the middle of the door is there to guard against the possibility that i may try to get in. His fears are not unfounded; this is what i did when i came in the courtyard ten minutes back because I knew that my only chance was to take them by surprise. And so, by the time they stopped me and then pushed me out of the shrine, i had done it. I had gone in, touched the stone, and took a few flowers lying on top of it.
It is important for me to tell you why i did that. I did that to tell myself that Bulleh Shah is as much ‘mine’ as he is anyone else’s in this world, and that i am not going to let Mehkma Auqaaf define Bulleh Shah in terms where the culture of lokai people is again taken over by religious bigots. And the reason i knew that ‘surprise’ will work, is because i faced the same situation at Jeevay Madhulal Hussain’s in Lahore time and again; caretakers at his Durbar would become alert upon seeing me enter the courtyard even when i had only crashed the prohibited door on my first visit.
At the place of Baba Sohna Bulleh Shah, I did not ask for the garland when i went in because the caretaker was busy pushing me out but that is okay because my friend Amarjit Chandan who was welcome inside with Afzal Sahir and Abdullah Malik, was kind enough to give me his garland. Here is this ‘privileged’ group of people; or should i say here are some of the ‘privileged’ members of my group; or simply, a group of ‘privileged’ people flanked by two additional distinctive individuals.
The fourth person from this group, Akram Varraich, though also equally privileged can not be seen in this photo because he was taking it.
Of course, i am lucky to have so many distinctive friends but i want their privileges to increase in quality as i try to expand mine because the advantages granted by the Department of Religious affairs in Pakistan may not be worth enjoying as they exclude over half the population of the Punjab, and Pakistan. And if ‘thriving’ on the ‘culture of exclusion’ seems like an exaggeration to you, consider that segregation is or was sanctioned in so many dominant cultures, and humans in power have always created their societies by excluding ‘other’ peoples and beings.
For now, we know that the ‘Religious Affairs and Auqaf’ of Punjab Government controls over 37 shrines in the province under the Punjab Waqf Properties Ordinance of 1979. Meanwhile, here is the email address of Lieutenant General (Retired) Khalid Maqbool, Governor of Punjab since 2001: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Minister Punjab, Dost Muhammad Khosa is here: www.punjab.gov.pk
Photos by Akram Varraich first published at http://www.apna.org/