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Islamabad

September 17, 2017

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Theatre play draws attention to unjust tax policies

Theatre play draws attention to unjust tax policies

Rawalpindi

The tradition of using theatre as a tool for mobilizing people for social change was revived Thursday with the performance of ‘Tax Aur Mohabbat’ (Tax and Love) at the Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University, which drew attention to Pakistan’s unjust and discriminatory system of taxation.

The performance was organised in honour of Oxfam Chair of Trustees Caroline Thompson, who is visiting Pakistan from the United Kingdom, and was attended by students and faculty members of the university. The play is written and directed by Rao Riaz under the initiative called Equality Threatre by International Youth and Workers Movement with support from Oxfam. The caste included a number of young amateur actors as well as some veterans from Lahore’s theatre scene.

The play opened to the scene of a middle-class home in Pakistan where a family struggles to meet their basic needs and finds that a high general sales tax on essential goods is adding to their misery. The play then followed the actors as they traverse their routine lives but find themselves having to pay taxes on everything from medicines and food to education. Through these scenes, the writer highlights the relationship between unjust tax policies and the state’s inability to provide basic services.

In a scene that particularly resonated with the audience, the lead character finds himself having to pay heavy taxes when organising his wedding. Depicting the character’s happiness being marred by the burden of expenses, the writer cleverly reminds the audience that even love and marriage in this country is not tax-free. Through humour and song, the performance successfully drew attention to the issue of taxes such as the general sales tax, which is charged to rich and poor indiscriminately and results in the poor and middle classes having to pay a greater portion of their income in tax.

Packed with culturally relevant jokes, the play had many in the audience in fits throughout the performance and managed to entertain while tackling a serious subject. Speaking to the audience after the performance, Caroline Thompson said tax injustice is an issue many countries in the developing as well as developed world are grappling with. “In the United Kingdom where I come from, tax havens and big corporations not paying taxes is a big issue. In particular, some of the big American corporations such as Amazon pay very little tax,” she said.

Caroline said she was happy to see that Oxfam is supporting such initiatives in Pakistan and appreciated the use of satire and humour to deliver an important message. “I know that one of the best ways to achieve change is to use creative forces, tell stories and fables and use metaphors and above all humour,” she said.

Speaking at the event, Oxfam Head of Programmes Javeria Afzal said that many Pakistanis do not understand how the taxation system works and Oxfam is making an effort to educate people about these issues using mediums such as theatre. “Openness and transparency in the economic system can help reduce poverty and eliminate social injustice,” she said.

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