GALI-E-DASTOOR – At Parliament House – A Gallery that Symbolises the Hard Struggle for Democracy

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ISLAMABAD: The Senate recently revamped a corridor on the first floor of Parliament House, by the Senate chairman’s office, and transformed it into Gali-i-Dastoor or Constitution Lane.

According to the pamphlet handed out at the beginning of a tour of the corridor, it is “now host to the important yet most neglected aspects of Pakistan’s history”.

A tour of the lane begins with a short video played on a flat screen TV hoisted on the wall opposite the lane. It gives an introduction to what the Constitution symbolises and the struggles that the people of Pakistan faced to uphold it. With a video of a caged bird that manages to break free and fly away, the voice over says that if a nation wants to, it can rewrite its destiny.

“This is not just the history of a country, the mural depicts the history of a nation,” the video says.

Frosted glass doors open to the gallery, and the large mural divided in five panels, each separated by a ‘dark’ period of martial law, is painted on the right wall. A large picture window runs the length of the corridor and lets in plenty of light.

With the idea that democracy is an ongoing process and that both good and bad times have led us to where we are now, various sized tiles have been installed on the floor of the lane to signify the bigger and smaller steps towards democracy.

The bigger tiles represent ‘big steps’ towards democracy and depict the times when democracy progressed more freely and at a faster pace. The smaller tiles represent the restrictions levied on the democratic process and signify the smaller steps towards democracy.

A few inches of light and dark skirting between the floor and the bottom of the mural also signify the hard and easy times during the history of Pakistan, though the colour scheme of the skirting does not coordinate with what is happening in the mural, which is deliberate.

The mural itself seems like a long, blazing Pakistani flag, with the fire hottest somewhere in the mid of our history and cooling down where the white part of the flag is, which is where the first transition of power between two democratic governments is depicted, and ending with the Constitution being held by the public, signifying that, if the public comes together they can make sure the Constitution is always upheld.

The mural starts with Quaid-i-Azam’s speech in Delhi regarding the constitution in 1943 in which he said the constitution will be drafted according to the desires of and in the interests of the public.

The first panel also contains a copy of the 1935 act which was adopted as an interim constitution until a proper constitution was framed in 1956 and Mr Jinnah signing the first role of members in the first constituent assembly. It includes a picture of him during his first speech to the assembly on Aug 11, 1947.

Detailed descriptions under each of the pictures and replicas of important documents, such as the 1935 act, narrate the history of the struggle for democracy.

To depict martial law, the wall is painted black and barbed wire crosses over replicas of newspaper excerpts hailing the onset of a dictatorship.

The tiles in front of the martial law period are black and pebbly, signifying dark and difficult times, though weak, narrow streams of water trickle through the pebbles, with the water signifying conscience and thought, which cannot be stopped and which, like water, can break through all obstacles.

The tour ends with a visit to an unimpressive fountain in the courtyard, just outside the sliding glass windows, which is nestled in between the Parliament House building on all four sides.

The fountain takes the shape of a large earthen pot which is pouring water onto another pot. Here the water signifies democracy, which trickles down from the federal government on to the provinces and finally to the citizens.

The pictures in the mural are dramatic and although painted, give a 3D effect. The paintings have been done so that the more important figures stand out, for example, Fatima Jinnah stands out in the picture of her speaking at an election rally in 1965 and a policeman’s stick stands out in the picture of him beating a handcuffed man during General Zia’s time.

The pictures from General Zia’s time, of when the public were flogged, are stained with red and the separation of east and west Pakistan is portrayed by hands bound by rope, with the rope now cut off.

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When asked about the intensity of the artwork, the coordinator for the project, National Council of Arts Administrator Raja Siddique, said the pictures were painted and treated and that the artists had to make sure that they looked real.

“For example, if you have a copy of the 1935 act, it would be old and in tatters by now, which is how it had to be shown in the mural as well,” he said.

He said brainstorming for the project had started in December 2015, during which a lot of other projects for revamping Parliament House were discussed.

Mr Siddique said the project took two months of on-site work and four to five of off-site work to complete.

“The hardest part of the project was to explain the concept to the chairman Senate verbally and not having any tangible plans to work with,” he said.

When asked about the project, Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani said during a recent project of the Senate Secretariat to review textbooks, senators had seen a distorted or incomplete history of the Constitution, where selective periods of history have been included.

“It is important for the younger generation to realise that the 1973 Constitution is not a gift and was not served on a platter. Journalists, the civil society and citizens had to pay with their blood, sweat and struggle,’ he said.

As an attempt to raise awareness about these struggles, Mr Rabbani said, the Senate had come up with the idea of Gali-i-Dastoor. Mr Rabbani did not share the exact cost of the project, but said no extra budget or donations were used for the mural project, and only the Senate budget was utilised.

He said the Senate will move forward with the idea by reviewing textbooks, drafting a more complete history in terms of the Constitution and sending it to the prime minister and the four provinces to be incorporated in the curriculum.

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