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Lala Rukh — Artist, Activist And Strong Voice Against Military Dictatorships

This piece is part of a series recognising the efforts and struggle of Pakistani women who challenged the status quo and paved the way for other women.

Lala Rukh was an activist and founding member of Women’s Action Forum (WAF) who actively fought against military dictatorship. Rukh was arrested twice by military dictators’ governments for protesting discriminatory laws and policies. She was first sent to jail during Zia ul Haq’s government when she took part in protests and activities against the martial law. Later in 2007, she was once again arrested while protesting Pervez Musharraf’s action of imposing Emergency in the country.

Lala Rukh was also an artist and she used her art to raise awareness on women’s rights and issues. In 1980s when Zia ul Haq’s government had banned local printers from printing posters and banners for protests, Lala Rukh began to design WAF’s posters seeking equality and freedom from discriminatory laws.
In 1986, when Pakistani women took to the streets against amendments to the Law of Evidence that mitigated the testimony of women as half of men, Lala Rukh was arrested along with other women. Lala Rukh was also a teacher at National College of Arts (NCA), and she risked her job for her activism. After the 1986 protest, the principal at the college called Lala Rukh to her office and grilled her over her involvement in the protest. However, she was allowed to continue. Lala Rukh then used teaching position to make a difference.

She later began teaching at the Punjab University and remained a faculty member for thirty years. At the Punjab University, she mentored students, researchers and artists. She created Pakistan’s first MA (Hons.) Visual Art program which was the first of its kind in the country. She guided the programme until her retirement in 2008.

Lala passed away in 2017 after a prolonged illness.


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Naya Daur