By Sharanya Gopinathan
On the 17th of February, in one of the deadliest bomb attacks of the year thus far, 85 people were killed and over 300 injured at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Pakistan. The attack was timed to be carried out on a Thursday, a day of religious significance to several people who visit the shrine. Not to be that repetitive friend you have on Facebook who keeps asking you why you didn’t change your profile picture in solidarity this time like you did for the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks, but given the scale of the attacks, it really was massively under-reported outside of Pakistan.
The day after the attack, devotees gathered at the shrine to resume their prayers. Poignantly, they did so not only in defiance of the attackers, but also to reclaim the space from the police who had swarmed the building. As Haja Shah, one of the shrine’s caretakers tearfully said to Dawn, the shrine was no place for police, but was in fact their own space.
Carrying forward the theme of reclaiming your own space in sheer defiance, dancer and activist Sheema Kermani joined the devotees on Sunday in solidarity with an evocative dance performance that’s being shared widely on Pakistani social media as the “only good thing that happened this week”. In a poignant act of resistance, she danced the dhammal, a dance meant to express feelings of devotional ecstasy, at the site of the attack, and said that her message was that she was not afraid, that she would continue to dance and all the people the terrorists meant to frighten were still standing right here. Kermani was happy with the immediate response her performance evoked, with several local women standing up to join her, and shopkeepers throwing rose petals on them as they danced on the road leading to the shrine.
The picture she paints, the depth of her intent and the sheer nuanced power of the moment combine to form a scene that’s indescribably special. You can watch part of her performance and the reaction it evoked here.