The Punjab government’s announcement to lift the 12-year ban on Basant, a kite-flying festival which marks the arrival of Spring season, appears to have taken a backseat after its counsel said a final decision was yet to be taken. On December 18, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, the information and culture minister, said the government had decided to lift the years-long ban and that Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has sought recommendations in this regard.
The very next day, on December 19, a petition was filed in the Lahore High Court, challenging the government’s decision to celebrate Basant. The petitioner, Advocate Safdar Shaheed Pirzada, maintained that the festival was banned as it had taken the form of a “blood sport” and that the government wanted to divert attention from public issues.
While kite flying, which is the highlight of Basant, over the course of several years, did lead to numerous deaths, it wasn’t always the case. Moreover, the notion that the festival itself is responsible for all the bloodshed is utterly flawed. Shunning the millennia-old culture as some sort of Hindu tradition, which is the most common rhetoric used by religious fanatics in Pakistan, is another narrative that needs to be fixed.
Deaths or injuries during the kite-flying season were often the result of relentlessly chasing after stray strings, as well as the excessive use of chemical-coated threads that were available at a much cheaper rate than the traditional cotton and nylon strings. Celebratory gunfire added to the woes and miseries that altogether ruined the former grandest cultural festivity of the year that was Basant.
The irony on part of these religious demagogues is that even Mahmud of Ghazni, the most prominent ruler of the Ghaznavid Empire whose multiple raids on the modern day India’s temples are nothing short of Holy quests for the ‘merchants’ of faith, has been depicted as enjoying his time in Lahore – the skies of which are flooded with kites – in a miniature painting available with the British Museum. Ameer Khushro, the 13th century Sufi mystic and poet, is also said to have had celebrated Basant.
Now on to the religious element that has forcefully been added to malign a minority community in general and the said festival in particular. For the record, the celebrations that mark the arrival of Spring season predate Islam by more than a thousand years. Basant, or Basant Panchami, falls on the fifth of Magha of the lunar calendar, which corresponds with January/February in the Gregorian calendar. The occasion is truly one of a kind, especially in the province of Punjab where people clad in yellow, dance to the tune of folk songs, and stuff their bellies with exquisite dishes.
That being said, Basant was never a mess, yet was turned into a throat-slitting contest by some individuals plagued by obnoxious thoughts. For the festival to attain its originality, it is pertinent on part of the authorities to ensure that no illegal and life-threatening material is used in kite manufacturing, licenses be issued to kite manufactures, mass media be utilised to apprise the public of pros and cons, and safety precautions – such as the use of helmet for motorcyclists travelling in areas with dense population – be implemented on priority basis.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has cited tourism as one of the major sectors that needs to be fixed and Basant has the potential to bring in hundreds of thousands of tourists, generating billions in terms of revenue for the government. Modern times call for the state and its citizens to draw a clear distinction between culture and faith as it has been quite often observed that when the two are mixed, it is the culture that receives the final blow. Basant has been Pakistan’s biggest cultural fatality, and now is the time to fix this.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org