Saturday July 20, 2024

Pakistan’s ‘Beautiful Face’ withering away fast

By Mobarik A Virk
June 06, 2017


The Kalash tribe, which once ruled the Kalash valley because of their dominating population, has become a minority now, faced with a serious existential threat if the circumstances continued to be they way they prevailed now.

Having been reduced to a meagre 4,114 Kalash population, men, women and children included, they have already turned into an extremely vulnerable community in Pakistan. And at the same time there are assertions that Kalashis are the only community that actually fits the definition of ‘Religious Minority’ in Pakistan.

Lots of efforts are being made from various forums and platforms to provide Kalashi community the required protection. But those seem to be not enough in face of the ever increasing adverse pressures on them.

They are indeed not afraid, but they are frustrated and angry because now they are being prevented from observing their religious rites and celebrating their festivals.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) held a ‘consultative session’ in collaboration with the German NGO Friedrich-Naumann Stiftung fur die Freiheit (FSN), to discuss the issue, which indeed is becoming more and more serious for the small Kalashi community, and find a ‘way forward’.

The session was chaired by Nasreen Azhar, the council member and representative of HRCP in Islamabad office. Others prominent personalities present at the session were the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar, the member of National Assembly (MNA) from Chitral Shahzada Iftikharud Din, Tahira Abdullah and Najamud Din of HRCP.

Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the Kalashis are a community that has lost its identity and now they are under the threat of extinction.

“Once they ruled the Kalash valley and now they have been reduced to a small group of a few thousand people. The KP government has the record of thousands of direct physical threats to this community. The development specialists should write to the Commission on Marginalised Communities to take up their issue as well as their plight need to be raised at national level through the Parliament. I have already submitted a ‘Resolution’ on this in the Senate and a ‘Motion’ is also put before the House,” Senator Farhatullah Babar said.

He also said that the UNESCO should be approached to include Kalash tribe as ‘World Heritage’ and Kelashi religious teachings should be taught in school curriculum instead of them being taught Islamic teaching in schools.

“As the Kalashi religion is not being identified legally, so they are forced to identify themselves as Muslims or the Budhists in official documents,” Senator Farhatullah Babar said.

Ms Syed Gul Kalash, an archaeologist striving to keep the Kalash culture and traditions alive, said that the Kalash people and their culture is threatened by the external influence which is affecting the mind-set of local Chitrali people.

“The Kalash people and the Chitralis have been living in complete harmony since thousands of years. But now people, who are visiting the valley as tourists, put strange and annoying questions to the local Chitrali people like, why don’t they try to convert Kalash people to Islam? And that is influencing the minds of local people, raising serious concerns and causing problems for Kalash people,” Ms Syed Gul Kalash said.

“We are an identity of Pakistan at the world level. Everywhere you go in the world where Pakistani presence has been presented, you will find the big posters of Kalash women, dressed in traditional garbs and headgears, dancing and smiling. Same is the situation in the top hotels, resorts, government buildings, the Presidency and the PM House. But very few know as to what actually is the situation on ground in Kalash valley and what,” she added.

Gul Nazar Kalash, another lady from Kalash valley said that education for Kalashi people has become almost torturous because the Chitrali teachers are deliberately or inadvertently preaching Islam to them, which can lead to conversions. “Kalashi students need to be taught their own curriculum to remain close to their religion, traditions and culture,” she said.

Shakira Bibi, yet another young Kalash lady present at the session said that the tourists coming to attend our festivals have become a nuisance.

“They don’t realise that they are disturbing the performance of our religious rituals which are sacred to us. They jump in middle of our groups, busy performing our rites and start taking pictures with their cameras or cell phones. These tourists need to be told how to behave and respect our religion by not hindering our rituals,” she said.

Mr Luke Rehmat, an activist also striving to keep the Kalash religion, culture and traditions alive, was also unhappy with the behaviour of tourists visiting the Kalash valley.

“There are things in our religion which are clearly defined as ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. We keep these strictly separate as we believe that any violation can bring harmful and dangerous influences in our lives. Yet, these tourists visiting Kalash valley violate this rite as they keep moving between the ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ parts, which we fail to prevent. But we do get deeply hurt and annoyed over the disrespect of our religion,” Luke Rehmat said.

Yet another grave issue the Kalashi community is confronted with is the blockade of the centuries old traditional route through which they pass to perform their religious rites. They have lost some parts of the traditional route to the development and in some case, they allege, the local people, who had always been kind and cordial with them in the past, had deliberately constructed structures. This has forced the Kalashi people to change the traditional route for the performance of their religious rituals.

The MNA from Chitral, Shahzada Iftikharud Din, said that the Chitralis and the Kalash people have lived together for centuries in complete harmony. They had been respecting and honouring each other. However, over the last couple of decades the influence of religious groups has lead to creating a sense of suspicion and mistrust between them. Unfortunately these feelings are growing instead of subsiding.

The MNA said that like all the Pakistanis Chitrali and Kalash people also need and deserve development in their areas. He said that he had been trying to develop the area and claimed that a number of development projects like roads, schools and health facilities have been started in his area. 

The Kalash people said that they were not averse to development. What they are demanding is that the development should not cost them their existence. “Like people all over the country, we also need good roads and other facilities. But appropriate steps should also be taken to preserve our sacred places, our abodes and our areas,” Luke Rehmat said.