Monday, December 7, 2015


There is no sign of measures to make Basant safe

The All Pakistan Kite Association and Paper Association have both appealed to the CM to bring back Basant, saying that the livelihood of more than 300,000 people in Punjab has suffered because of the ban on the festival. To mitigate the risks of flying kites in urban surroundings, they have suggested the establishment of a Kite City at some distance from Lahore.
It’s surprising that our self-serving governments have not revived Basant already. Not only is Basant a major intangible cultural heritage but its revival would also pull citizens out of the angry slouch they have fallen into, and may also get the government additional votes.
UNESCO, which deals with intangible cultural heritage, defines it as that segment of a society’s cultural heritage which deals not only with monuments (such as forts and mausoleums) and objects (such as handicrafts) but also with ‘traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants’. These include ‘oral traditionsperforming artssocial practices, rituals, festive eventsknowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.’
This is the definition of, for example Nauruz, Flamenco dancing, and also Basant, the spring festival, which once filled the skies of Lahore with colourful kites.
Versions of spring festivals exist in many cultures. It is the prerogative of each separate culture to give its spring festival a secular or religious face. In his excellent article on the subject in an English weekly, Ally Adnan mentions these various faces, and gives some interesting information about the festival. The important thing to know is that A) In Lahore,Basant, when celebrated, did not involve religion. It was a secular festival in which women wore yellow to denote spring, and everyone flew kites; B) Basant did not involve causing harm to anyone or anything other than the other person’s kite. If in the course of this pastime people died, this was never the intention.
And yet the religious lobby frowned upon Basant because it suspected it of possessing un-Islamic undertones. The religious lobby of course frowns upon any practice that fails to produce ferocious ‘ghain’ sounds, or anything bright and cheerful which it equates with the devil’s fart.
Basant was one of Lahore’s hallmark traditions, something in which the entire city and province participated. Thousands of people were employed in the making of kites in the Punjab, amongst these several thousand were women who made kites at home. Basantalso brought in huge profits in tourism and as much again in good humour and improved morale, something that successful cultural practices achieve which is why it is important to maintain them. I suppose it was difficult to expect anything better from Chaudhry Pervez Elahi but Basant was banned by his government and the ban has been in place for some ten years, which indicates the strength of the religious lobby and sheer government inaction.
Concerns regarding safety during Basant are very real and these were also partly responsible for the ban. They must be addressed and one great way of doing this is the suggestion offered above, a kite flying zone in safe surroundings away from the city where all aspects of the festival can be monitored.
Basant in Lahore is announced with drums and fireworks the night before. Beautiful kites dot the sky, the aim of each kite flyer to cut the dor of an opponent’s kite with an experienced flick of his own. A fallen kite is pounced upon with glee and is for anyone to hook and take, often with long poles with a grip at one end.
As happens with monotonous regularity, ‘unscrupulous elements’ in society spotted an opportunity, and kite string which once cut by means of knots and practiced movements now comes coated with glass and even metal. This has been the cause of severe injuries, even death. Hopping from one roof to another in pursuit of kites, thanks to roofs that almost touch but not quite in the inner city also resulted in injuries and death. As if this was not enough the crazy practice of aerial firing in celebration, common at weddings where it often ends marriages at the very outset, migrated to this festival and added to the injuries and death.
These risk factors should be monitored and they can be monitored in a special kite flying zone, instead of banning the festival itself. After all, one does not find a similar ban extending to marriages which lead to almost as many deaths due to the same aerial firing and as a result of domestic violence and childbirth later on.
One must look to statistics elsewhere since we have none ourselves, and besides our children are too busy earning a living: In the US, 67 percent of the injuries in children’s playgrounds are incurred on swings, while in Pakistan we know that injuries are incurred during playing cricket and gulli danda. In the US it was noted that ‘adequate protective surfaces were not present in most of the serious cases’. The relevant organisation CPSC ‘developed recommendations for protective surfacing on playgrounds to address the risk of serious head injury’. And they reported that ‘it is encouraging that the proportion of public playgrounds having protective surfacing has increased in recent years’. It however adds that ‘a number of recommendations in the CPSC Handbook and standards address fall hazards through modification of the equipment, such as with guardrails and barriers’.
The above is an example of an effort to monitor something to eliminate risk factors. Playgrounds and swings still exist in the US. Any attempts at banning them would result in the fall of the incumbent government.
The second weekend of February, which once upon a happier time was celebrated as the beginning of spring, is not far away now but the question of Basant remains up in the air. Still. There are no signs of any government initiatives or measures for preventing injuries on the occasion, no public education against the dangerous ‘manja’ that causes the injuries, no action against aerial firing.
If the powers that be were to indulge in a modicum of introspection they might realise that banning things has become a silly habit. They may also perceive that from Salman Rushdie’s book to YouTube, banning has only resulted in turning one into a bestseller and the other into one of the most watched vehicle of interesting information online. Perhaps it is foolish to expect wisdom from such quarters, but one can try, so here goes:
Respected CM, please bring back Basant. It would provide your voters (aka citizens) with employment, and bring back some happiness into an increasingly dull city that was once home to a joyous event.
Or no, let me put it another way: Please Mr CM, un-ban Basant because that is when people eat haleem. And nihari. Let’s celebrate Basant together and eat haleem and nihari. And ride your Metro buses to and fro.
(That might achieve something. For this government the promise of haleem and biryaniworks. Like a cattle prod. The Metro buses were just an unnecessary adjunct).

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