Harmless fun or a deadly pursuit? Muhammad Salman Khan gathers some different opinions regarding Basant.As the rays of the sun get brighter and winter clouds disappear, there is an unmistakable scent of spring in the air. The parks of Lahore are suffused with the fragrance of flowers and resound with bird song. A plethora of festivals and cultural activities abound but still Lahorites miss their Basant; unfortunately, this beloved cultural event was banned by the Punjab government in 2005 in the wake of a number of string-related deaths.
The sight of colourful kites dotting the sky, along with festive music and an array of delectable dishes, is considered to be the true sign of spring for many a Lahorite. They question the rationale behind banning an activity that is all about entertainment and joy. To them the restriction on kite-flying is an unnecessary curb on an event that they view as cultural heritage.
On the other hand, the critics of Basant go to all lengths to prove it a lethal sport which leaves behind a trail of misery for many families who lose their dear ones. Kite-flying, in their view, is nothing more than a cut-throat competition…in every sense of the word.
“Ask a mother who has lost her child yet to blossom into youth to the killer sport, ask a child who has seen his father cut down by twine at a time when he needs his affection the most,” says a person, who did not give his name because of personal reasons. He maintains that activities like kite-flying are nothing short of a luxury which end up doing more harm than good.
“One can’t stop travelling by a train or a plane even though there is the risk of accidents but one can easily do without Basant; it not only claims a number of lives but is also a strain on national resources,” he argues. Others condemn it on the basis of religion and equate it with obscenity.
Countering these arguments, Agha Waqar Khan says it is unjust to see just one side of the picture. Basant, he says, is one of the few festivals one can enjoy provided there is discipline and awareness about the hazards of chemical or glass-coated twine. Generally, a few unscrupulous people violate norms of decency and lack empathy but a majority of the people are conscientious enough to follow the unwritten rules of the sport. Just as everything else, Basant is what we make of it, says Khan.
”It is true that one should not play with fire and expose other people to the threat of scars but it is the government’s foremost duty to crack down on the wrongdoers — traders dealing in prohibited material and carefree consumers. Instead of banning the sport, the authorities should use law-enforcement agencies to keep an eye on killjoys who resort to aerial firing and indulge in other disruptive activities”, he says.
Asghar Khan, an avid kite flyer, believes the powers that be penalise a large number of people for the indiscretions of a few. Ham-handed tactics and ill-advised actions like these are counter-productive as they make people defy the authorities. Ban on kite-flying and its paraphernalia means putting thousands of people, including women, out of a job as they eked out a living through this business. Now, these small tradesmen are struggling to make both ends meet.
What happens is that the sport lovers enjoy the activity away from the official eye. The professional kite flyers as well as amateurs have kept the passion alive by holding competitions and having fun in suburban areas of cities. In order to allow recreation and eliminate the threat of casualties, Khan suggests the state should provide open spaces or kite-flying zones to the people. Dangerous (glass-coated) twine, and not Basant, should be banned, he says.
Sharing his opinion on the issue, a retired senior police officer told Dawn it was not difficult for the law enforcers to prevent unhealthy trends in society provided there was political will. “If the Punjab government or any civic agency means business, it may not be difficult for the police to take effective punitive measures to root out the manufacture and sale of lethal twine,” he said. “It is not an issue of resources.
What they lack is will and their vision is cramped by selfish interests and provincialism,” he remarked.
According to him, “too much governmental interference in the private lives of people is uncalled for and stokes distrust.” The government should restrict themselves to keeping law and order and crime under control, letting the people pursue their private lives and interests unhindered, he believes.
As for the cases of deaths due to sharp twine and falling from roofs, he said the government could not be absolved of the duty of securing lives of people by enforcing laws.
“To make Basant a real tourist attraction, there is a need to provide open spaces to the people or else they will fashion their own just as they do in cricket. Proper playgrounds, and not streets, should be the area of such pursuits. The government, irrespective of political affiliations, must make sure that violators of the ban on prohibited stuff are dealt with sternly and more importantly without discrimination,” he said.