Families of dancing girls at Banr Bazaar in Mingora city, the capital of the Swat district, are still scared despite the return of calm to the city in recent weeks.

The dark and narrow infamous Banr Bazaar with small two-story houses was deserted by its inhabitants following the killing of dancer Shabana by a group of Taliban-led militants one cold night in January 2009. Her bullet-ridden body was found slumped on the ground, strewn with money and video recordings of her dance performances. Threatened and scared, the families of the hundreds of dancing girls fled the area to settle down in Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi Islamabad. Though many of them managed to start a new beginning in cities outside Mingora, others were unable to do so and returned to the relief camps set up by the government following the launch of the military operation in Swat against Maulana Fazlullah-led militants and subsequent displacement of millions of people.

Many families at the Banr Bazaar reportedly sold their daughters to wealthy men in Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi to make both ends meet. Some of them had been married to men who were already married and had children as well. But the families of the poor dancing girls had no other option as they needed money to survive.

The 14-member family of Seema was also among the ones who had first decided to go to Karachi but finding little chance to settle there, returned to the Jalala camp in Takht Bhai Tehsil of Mardan district in the NWFP. Following the return of the internally displaced families to Swat after the rout of the Taliban at the hands of the Pakistan Army, Seema’s family also returned to Banr Bazaar with the hope of making a new start. However, they were disappointed by finding no clients and were again thinking of leaving the place for good. Living at a rented house in the Banr Street, the 18-year-old girl thinks they were children of a lesser god as nobody paid attention to their condition when they left the area under threat from Taliban. Again no government functionary visited them to know about their condition in the relief camps. Subsequently, Seema’s brothers, who once used to play piano and tabla (drums), are now selling ice-cream on a pushcart in Mingora

As things stand today, among the nearly 100 families of the dancing girls, half have returned so far but they are still living under fear and do not meet visitors. Before she was made to leave Swat in January 2009, Seema used to earn Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 per programme (music party), but now majority of the families are unable to pay their house rent. Although, she cannot go out of the Banr Street, she is confident that the past days would not return.

This article was first published on August 20, 2009 at www.metransparent.com  

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