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- Monday, August 27, 2012 - From Print Edition

The Greek historian Herodotus of the fifth century BC used the term “Dadikai” for people now known as Dards or Dardic. He placed the land between Kashmir and Afghanistan. “Darada” is the in Sanskrit termed used for the inhabitants of the region. In Pakistan the region is rarely called Dardistan or the people Dard, a Persian word derived from the Sanskrit “darada.”

A linguistic and ethnic mystery shrouds the term Dardic, the termed coined and used by colonial scholars. It was first used by the British Orientalist Dr Gottlieb Welhem Lietner (1840-1899). But no one in the region calls himself Dard, as Dr John Mock has noted in his paper, “Dards, Dardistan, and Dardic: an ethnographic, geographic and linguistic conundrum.”

The Dard or Darada land includes Chitral, Swat, Dir, Indus Kohistan and Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. The people spoke Dardic languages, one of the three groups belonging to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The Dardic languages include Dameli, Dumaki, Gawri (Kalami), Gawar-Bati, Gawro, Glangali or Nangalami (Afghanistan), Kalasha, Kashmiri, Kashtawari (Kashmir) Khowar (Chitrali), Miaya (Indus Kohistani), Pashai (Nuristan, Kunar, Laghman, Kapisa Nangarhar in Afghanistan), Palula, Shina, Tirahi, Torwali and Wotapuri.

The Darada people of the region are the least explored. Mainstream Pakistanis do not know about the unique identity, culture and languages of these people. No mainstream research by Pakistani scholars is available on them. The only exception was the late Dr Ahmad Ahsan Dani who did some archaeological research in the Karakorum Range. The Pakistani media seldom covers the region except for negative news, as the recent report on Chitrali youths joining the Afghan Army and the Kohistan video scandal.

The only sources for reference are the research and surveys conducted by British Orientalists. Almost all the Dardic languages are undocumented and many are on the verge of extinction. A number of Dardic languages have already died out. However, thanks to foreigners who have been busy in research on these languages and in some places are also promoting them by involving the speakers of particular languages in the development of their respective languages. Their indigenous cultures are under threat from obscurantist forces which are organising themselves in the areas politically and socially. The whole region is in the grip of acute poverty. The joining of the Afghan Army by youths in Chitral is but once evidence of this. Indus Kohistan is the least developed district in Khyber-Pakhtukhwa. Chitral is the largest district in the province, but also the most neglected.

Siraj Ulmulk in a recent article in these pages asserted that Chitral had a higher literacy rate than the rest of Pakistan. I doubt if this is true, since Chitral is cut off from the rest of Pakistan in winter, and has no educational infrastructure.

Politically the Darada land is under-represented. Though the Northern Areas were given “internal autonomy” by an ordinance in 2009 and were named Gilgit-Baltistan, their status still awaits a constitutional act. This change was apparently carried out to calm the Balwaristan National Front, which wanted complete autonomy for the Northern Areas, including Shina Kohistan and Chitral. The locals are still unhappy with the so-called autonomy, because the “province” is still controlled by the federal government.

Darada land is blessed with natural beauty and has many distinguishing features. Trich Mir, the highest peak of the Hindu Kush Range is in Chitral, with other peaks are in the Kohistan of Swat, like Koshen and Plasaar. K2 is the second-highest peak in the world, after Everest in Nepal and Tibet. Other peaks in the area include Rakaposhi, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrums, Masherbrums.

But despite its natural and cultural wealth, the region receives little attention in terms of conservation of its cultural and natural heritage. Forests are fast depleting due to the depredations of the powerful timber mafia, whose members have much influence in the administration. Indus Kohistan has already lost innumerable trees and now Chitral and Kohistan of Swat are threatened by denudation. Local influential people, who receive a meagre share from the sale of the illegally produced timber, are in complicity with the powerful timber mafia. Water is in abundance in the region but is not used for the development of the area. Hydroelectric plants are designed and constructed at the expense of the environment without the local population receiving any benefits.

Culturally the region is home to the Ghandhara and Darada heritage. The rock carvings along the Indus River, the Buddhist and Darada legacy in Swat and the Kalash in Chitral are relics of a golden period. These sites are some of the most cherished destinations for archaeologists and anthropologists.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]