After one of my articles in which I briefly touched upon the issue of Basant, I received several emails complaining about the “killer” sport of kite flying. It was suggested that unlike planes, cars and high rises, kite flying is not a necessity and therefore it must be banned. This is a very dangerous argument which needs to be addressed because Pakistan cannot afford such speciousness in determining our future course any longer.
At the outset let me state unequivocally that I have no personal interest in kite-flying. Indeed I am yet to fly my first kite despite being born and bred Lahori. That is besides the point however since I do not speak Punjabi either having even listed Urdu as my mother tongue with Nadra but that does not mean that I would support the banning of Punjabi.
To begin with let me state a few facts that seem to elude our anti-Basant lobby. The celebration of kite flying in Lahore is not of recent origin nor is it limited to Pakistan or South Asia. Renowned Sufi saints flew kites long before our straitjacket types took over Islam. Allama Iqbal, who has been elevated to the status of founding father and aspects of whose philosophy are used by the religious right to drive home their own points, was an avid kite flier. Even Imran Khan – who is desperately trying to ride the righteous tiger of the religious right- loves flying kites. Indeed kites and the grand old man of Basant, Yusuf Sallahuddin, is what connects Imran Khan and Allama Iqbal but that is another story. More importantly though the “chemical string” menace is of recent origin and so are the unfortunate deaths linked to the “killer sport” as it were. Kite flying happens all around the world without similar consequences. There are kite-flying competitions and festivals in US and China. Even in our neighbourhood, kite-flying does not seem to do the damage it does in Pakistan.
The way to handle the chemical string menace is to devise stronger legislation with punitive fines on the manufacture and use of such strings. Additionally make it financially prohibitive to make dangerous strings. This could achieved in a number of different ways because our governments excel at the art of spurious levies and duties. For once it could help make the sport of kite-flying safe. Instead our government, backed by a retrogressive judiciary, has banned a festival that has been celebrated for centuries. The reason for this is that the Mullah agitators – who the Punjab government keeps on board for a rainy day- against Basant do not care if people die. Indeed I find it ironic that people who celebrate death in the name of religion openly and threaten violence against those who oppose them are suddenly so concerned for human life. No sir, the Mullah wants to fashion a society where people are utterly devoid of all entertainment. Let us not forget that a well known Maulana had even proposed to a military dictator to ban cricket as it turned people away from religion according to him. The Mullahs do not care about the people or the fact that their actions are driving the youth of this country insane and depressed. For them the answer to dysfunctional Mullahism is more Mullahism.
One of the gentlemen who wrote to me spoke of the term “contributory negligence”. The rule of contributory negligence, to put it simply, is to determine who had the last clear shot at averting a disaster. Given that Basant has been going on for ages and the issue of chemical string is of recent origin, the contributory negligence as a legal principle hits the issue of the manufacture and sale of the chemical string and not Basant. Consider if you may a different example. If the Boxing commission issues license to an aging unfit boxer who then dies in a fight, contributory negligence would be that of the Boxing commission. Would it make sense then to strike down the sport of Boxing, which mind you is not a necessity either? How about para-gliding or sports flying? Perhaps that ought to be banned as well. But of course those are preserves of the rich and famous and the Mullah is interested in only fooling the masses, who are ready to sacrifice the little entertainment in their life as a consequence of emotional appeals from the pulpit.
The blanket ban on Basant would in any civilised society be completely untenable and patently unconstitutional for being in restraint of trade and for punishing a majority for the actions of a few. We are however neither civilised nor constitutional as a society (a sharp contrast to the urbane, logical and constitutional Mr. Jinnah who has the unfortunate distinction of being this nation’s founder). Basant ban set a nasty precedent and has allowed state authorities to arbitrarily infringe on fundamental rights of many citizens of Pakistan. For example, in the May of last year Facebook was banned through an order of the Lahore High Court which was ultimately lifted. However, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority persists with its blanket and completely illegal ban on Blackberry services, a clear violation of the due process and equal protection clauses which are very much part of the Pakistani constitution. Those who think they have done a great deed in stopping an ancient cultural festival should know that they have called forth a flood. It will not stop here. It will soon creep into religious affairs as well. Who is to stop a Sunni judge from striking down the Shia practices of Ashura-e-Muharram. Deobandis will also one day use similar arguments to close down mazars and urses etc that most Barelvis cherish by claiming that these are dens of narcotics and immoral activities. Pakistan will be stripped off religious and cultural diversity. Gandhi once reportedly said that if India drives out Islam from India, Hinduism will die. In Pakistan, the crackdown on culture and dissent is likely to threaten Islam similarly.