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Pakistani theatre activist and peace campaigner Madeeha Gauhar dies aged 61

The actor, director and activist was also a tireless campaigner for peace with India.

world Updated: Apr 25, 2018 23:52 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Madeeha Gauhar,Pakistani theatre activist,India-Pakistan peace campaigner
Madeeha Gauhar was well-known for her commitment to theatre for social change and was also one of Pakistan’s leading women’s rights activists.(via Facebook)

Madeeha Gauhar, an icon of independent theatre in Pakistan and a tireless campaigner for peace with India, died at her hometown of Lahore on Wednesday after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 61.

The actor, director and activist was well-known for her commitment to theatre for social change and was also one of Pakistan’s leading women’s rights activists. She founded Ajoka Theatre in 1984 with her husband, playwright Shahid Nadeem, after studying theatre in the UK and China.

Gauhar frequently collaborated with Indian artists and staged a number of plays at theatre festivals in Indian cities.

Ajoka Theatre’s plays are often based on social and human rights issues, such as female literacy, honour killings, oppression of women and religious extremism. While this endeared Gauhar to the liberals, she and her plays were often the target of the ire of Pakistan’s hardliners.

Burqavaganza, a satirical play that Gauhar described as “a love story in the times when society is grappling with issues such as extremism, intolerance and terrorism”, was banned by Pakistani authorities in 2010. The play used the burqa as a metaphor for political and social cover-ups but angered leaders of the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami.

Other plays by Ajoka Theatre dared to take on subjects that most Pakistani playwrights would stay away from, such as Mera Rang De Basanti Chola that took a closer look at Bhagat Singh’s role in the independence movement and Dara, based on the life of Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan who was imprisoned and executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb.

Toba Tek Singh, Aik Thi Nani, Bulha, Letters to Uncle Sam, Hotel Mohenjodaro and Lo Phir Basant Ayee are among Ajoka Theatre’s memorable plays.

The group performed across the world, including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Iran, Egypt, the US and the UK. It also staged productions in backyards and open spaces in poor neighbourhoods to raise awareness about key issues.

Gauhar was the first Pakistani to receive the prestigious Prince Claus Award for her leadership of Ajoka, which was praised by organisers of the Dutch prize for withstanding “pressures from the political and religious establishment, and (remaining) committed to the cause of theatre for social change”. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

Gauhar, the elder sister of actor Faryal Gauhar, is survived by her husband Shahid Nadeem and two sons, Sarang and Nirvaan.

First Published: Apr 25, 2018 18:12 IST