Pakistan: Sheema Kermani

Tehrik-e-Niswan still has to deal with attempts at censorship, and harassment by orthodox groups who blame us for defaming Pakistan or Islam. But we carry on, undeterred and hopeful.

— Sheema Kermani

Sheema Kermani's efforts to revive dance in a conservative society have created a cultural revolution in Pakistan. Her dauntless efforts to integrate, mainstream, and mobilize classical dance, theater, television, and drama as forms of alternative communication have been liberating, particularly for women. In an environment of animosity and suspicion, dance/drama is a medium widely accepted by all segments of society and helps to foster peace and friendship in the region.

Sheema Kermani was born in 1951 into a middle-class educated family in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. She studied fine arts, film, and art appreciation and trained herself in classical music and Indian dance. Kermani's concern with issues of justice, peace, and women's rights persuaded her to set up the Tehrik-e-Niswan, a cultural action group to create awareness about the subordinate status of women in society and the antiwomen laws. Using dance, drama, and music, Tehrik-e-Niswan and Kermani took up relevant social issues to create public awareness and to bring to light the antiwomen nature of society. Her activities forced the state to introduce an amendment to the Performing Act Ordinance by which all dance performances by women were banned. This ban is still operational and artists have to obtain a no-objection certificate, which states, "dances, obscenity and nudity not allowed." However, she defies these bans and continues to perform and also teach classical dance. She has also lectured and written extensively on the history, significance, beauty, and importance of fine arts. Having traveled widely across the globe she has to her credit many ballets, most prominent among them The Song of Mohenjodaro, and Indus and Europe. In a country where dance is a taboo, her performances have succeeded in initiating dialogues and discussions toward progressive change in cultural norms, unfair practices, and social values. Sheema has thus been an integral part of the feminist movement of resistance in Pakistan. Through her efforts to integrate women's rights, cultural heritage, and creative expression she has reached out to the young and old, men and women. Kermani's relentless criticism of the antiwomen policies and laws of the state introduced during martial law in the 1980s and still in force in the country has led to far greater awareness among people.

Tehrik-e-Niswan Pakistan India Forum for Peace and Democracy Pakistan Peace Coalition