Fresh casualties dampen hopes for revival of Pakistan’s kite festival

Fresh casualties caused by sharp glass-coated strings used to fly kites in several parts of Pakistan have further dented hopes for the revival of Basant, a traditional festival celebrated with the advent of spring.

Netizens took to social media platforms to express their anger over the latest casualty last week – a 22-year-old boy whose neck was slit open while riding a bike in Faisalabad, a city in the northeastern Punjab province, the main hub of kite flying.

Grisly surveillance footage showing the young graduate lying in a pool of blood in the middle of the road sparked nationwide ire, forcing the police to launch a crackdown against kite-fliers and sellers across the province.

Stray kite strings also killed a minor boy and an elderly man in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, and Faisalabad in March and February, respectively, while over a dozen people, including children, have been critically injured over the last month.

Similar incidents over past decades have claimed hundreds of lives and injured as many in Pakistan.

Syed Mubasher Hussain, a spokesman for Punjab Police, told Anadolu that Maryam Nawaz, chief minister of the province, has ordered a crackdown against those involved in buying, selling and manufacturing of kites and strings.

Some 3,000 people have been arrested and over 100,000 kites confiscated across the province over the past one month, he said.

Ban to be further tightened

Kite flying is the centerpiece of Basant, a festival traditionally celebrated in both Indian and Pakistani Punjab provinces to welcome spring.

Basant was taken to its zenith by former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who made it an international event.

It promoted Lahore as the country’s cultural hub and was popular to the point that citizens would rent out the roofs of their houses for kite-flying events throughout the month.

It was first banned in Pakistan in 2007 following the deaths of hundreds of people, mostly children.

The ban was briefly lifted in 2018 but immediately reimposed following dozens of casualties.

The deaths and injuries are mostly caused by the sharp glass or metal-coated strings used to detach kites during kite fights. The more kites one downs, the more praise they get from colleagues, and more significantly, the “looted” kites are bought by revelers at a good price.

The dual temptation for money and praise propels children and young boys to run for the stray kites, which sometimes turns out to be a bloody affair. Apart from fatal road accidents and stampedes during the run, there have been bloody clashes between the boys claiming their respective rights to landing kites.

“Whenever there is a debate about the revival of this centuries-old festival, there are deaths and injuries, which wash away the whole exercise,” Mian Abid, a Lahore-based writer focusing on crime and culture, told Anadolu.

“In the given circumstances, mainly the public sentiments, there is no chance whatsoever for the revival of kite flying, at least in the near future.”

Abid said “a small chunk of overwrought” revelers have deprived the citizens of a “simple but entertaining” activity.

“Many kite-flying enthusiasts stay away from the dangerous part of these activities, like using metal and other prohibited strings. But they are paying the price for the absurdity of the minority,” he said.

“Instead of revival, I foresee further tightening of the noose around people who dare to fly kites.”

Persisting problem

Standing in the prayer hall of a mosque in a densely-populated Lahore neighborhood, a policeman, through a loudspeaker, warned parents to stop their kids from flying kites.

“This dangerous game has already claimed thousands of precious lives. If anyone is found flying kites, both them and their parents will be booked,” he warned.

However, despite the ban and warnings, kite flying has not been fully stamped out.

To avoid raids and arrests, manufacturers are selling kites online, while revelers fly them at night to avoid being spotted.

Still, people like Zulfikar Ali, a former organizer of kite-flying events, are dismissive of the idea of a Basant revival.

“It’s over now. There’s nothing left to discuss,” he told Anadolu.

“In this current atmosphere, there’s no point even talking about it,” added Ali.

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