Gilgit-Baltistan:Fighting Sectarianism through Poetry

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Gilgit (ET): Described as one of Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B) most prolific contemporary poets, Abdul Khaliq Taj is known in the region for his humorous poetry. He targets the powerful mullah (clergy), who is dividing the masses on sectarian lines.

Born in Gilgit to a middleclass family, the retired bureaucrat-cum-poet began writing poetry from early age but his main focus was sectarian and violence that have been brewing in the area since the early 1970s. “I started writing poetry in reaction to sectarian rivalries which claimed hundreds of innocent lives over the years”

A poem he wrote in 2004 against mainstream Sunni and Shia prayer leaders became so popular that people began reciting it in public and private gatherings, ‘Wahan Agha barasta hai, yahan Mullah barasta hai, humaray shehr ki galiyon main, ik lava barasta hai’ (As the Agha rages and the Mullah rants, our city streets fill up with fire). Taj targeted the clerics as he felt that their sermons instigated the youth to turn to violence, leading to the loss of lives.

“The poem left a deep impact on the clerics, who later wrote to me asking for clarification,” Taj recalled, adding that he called the clerics’ body to defuse the tension in Gilgit, where he served for over 31 years.

Taj, who made his poetical debut when he was in fifth grade, has to his credit two poetic collections (deewaans), containing over 1,000 poems written in Urdu, Shina and Khowar. Shina is the most widely spoken language in G-B, while Khowar is spoken in Ghizer District and Chitral. He is also the first to author a book on the Shina language and literature, a project sponsored by Pakistan Academy of Letters, Islamabad.

Now in his 60s, Taj served in the district administration for decades and retired in 2008 as first class magistrate (tehsildar), a position he held for a year without being promoted, mainly due to lack of departmental rules. However, he holds no regrets.

While referring to one of his sons (Zafar Wiqar Taj also a bureaucrat-cum-poet) who inherited his poetic instincts, he says, “It could be a reward for my forbearance and patience.”

An enthusiast of culture and arts, Taj has played an instrumental role in promoting G-B’s culture and harmony. “Perhaps, I was inspired by my family, which was very inclined towards poetry,” said Taj, who now spends his time writing poetry and newspaper columns. He also pays sitar.

It is irony that most of the splendid work produced in the region goes unnoticed by the outside world due to a lack of government interest and support.

On this Masroor Wali, a senior teacher described Taj as, “One of the many unsung local heroes born in isolated, mountain-locked northern mountains of Pakistan,” he added.

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