Vocal Advocates of Pluralism in Afghanistan

Zohra—Afghan Women’s Orchestra

Comprising of over 30 afghan girls[i], Zohra was launched in 2015 in Afghanistan National Institute of Music as one and only all-women Orchestra in the country and is being led by Dr Ahmad Sarmast. The ensemble hit spotlights after releasing “Rosegarden of Light” in collaboration with Toccata Classics[ii]. The team performed at the closing ceremony of the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting and 11 other concerts across Switzerland and Germany[iii].

Zohra was awarded the Freemuse Award 2017, on 25th January for “becoming important role models for any Afghan welcoming the return of music and the rights to exercise and take part in cultural life[iv].The award reveres exceptional work for “freedom of musical expression”[v].



Ensemble Zohra is an exemplary manifestation of perseverance and courage. Many members of the team live at an orphanage—Afghan Child Education and Care Organization[vi][vii]. Ahmad Sarmast, narrowly survived a terrorist attack on the French Cultural Centre in Kabul, in December 2014[viii]. The team fights back the Taliban and deafening propaganda by radical conservative groups across Afghanistan to revitalize Afghanistan’s music and conserve diversity of forms and origins of music.

We can't build a democratic society in Afghanistan if we will be neglecting half of the population of this nation"—Sarmast.[ix]

Anarkali Honaryar
Anarkali Kaur Honaryar is a staunch advocate of rights of the dwindling population of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan. She currently serves as the only non-Muslim woman senator in the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament. She also has had a strong career in promoting women’s rights in general. In these roles, she has been braving a system that inherits discrimination and a society that doesn’t welcome freedom of religion. Anarkali and Khaled Abu Awwad of Palestine were winners of the 2011 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-violence.
According to a report on International Religious Freedom by the United States Department of State (2014), the Hindus and Sikhs are communities of an estimated 3,000 population who continue to face societal discrimination. As a result, they have very limited access to education, available only through 3 public schools in Kabul, Helmand and Ghazni. They are extremely vulnerable to harassment. “A member of parliament allegedly usurped the land bestowed to the Sikh community in Lut-o Band, outside of Kabul, and reportedly threatened to kill anyone who attempted to cremate a body there[x].”
Earlier last year, a paper by Porsesh Research and Studies Organization highlighted fundamental contradictions within the Afghanistan Constitution—articles 3 and four— and other Key Afghanistan laws that deny the non-Muslim citizens their rights[xi].


Samay Hamed
It is difficult, but we have to believe
a silken child is opening the cage of our bones
to emerge like a free-form Haiku
To translate us for ourselves
In spite of our difficulties we must believe[xii]
“Artist is human and human is not indifferent towards any matter… An artists is a partner in crime with the spider that hunts a fly”, responded Samey Hamed in an interview with the 8am Daily’s Ramin Mazhar[xiii].
Samey Hamid is a medical science graduate and is a famed song writer, poet and satirist. He was awarded the International Press Freedom Awards in 2003 [xiv] and Swedish PEN’s annual Tucholsky Prize in 2010[xv]”.
Samay Hamed has been a outspoken critique of debased ethno-centric politics and an strong proponent of social justice. He helped rebuild Afghan PEN and is reported to have roles in release of Parwez Kambakhsh—who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for blasphemy[xvi].

“I see my father selling left-over parts of the mortar-shell
to the iron-peddler to buy a nipple
for my month-old sister”

To be Continued... 


[i] [https://www.anim-music.org/girls-ensemble/]
[ii] www.glomus.net/index.php?id=129
[iii] [http://www.zohra-music.org/]
[iv] https://freemuse.org/freemuse-award/freemuse-award-2017/
[v] https://freemuse.org/freemuse-award/freemuse-award-2017/
[vi] [http://www.zohra-music.org/]
[vii] http://afceco.org/af2w/sponsor-a-child/
[viii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/25/he-was-the-saviour-of-afghan-music-then-a-taliban-bomb-took-his-hearing
[ix] https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/01/31/512592727/all-female-orchestra-from-afghanistan-is-a-force-for-change
[x] https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/238700.pdf
[xi] http://www.porseshresearch.org/porseshv2/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Ignored-Identities-Status-of-Hindus-and-Sikhs-in-Afghanistans-Legal-System.pdf
[xiii] https://8am.af/x8am/1396/10/10/sami-hameds-trial
[xiv] https://cpj.org/awards/2003/hamed.php
[xv] http://s111038.gridserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/wipc-5.pdf
[xvi] http://www.groundreportindia.com/2010/11

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