Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Heritage: A Kalasha profile

April 21, 2013

At the end of the Second World War, I first heard the phrase “Military Industrial Complex”. These words were uttered by President Eisenhower, and I overheard them, when my mother and her parents were discussing the global situation and the demise of the League of Nations. (It is role now taken over by the United Nations.) My grandfather had been a stretcher-bearer in the trenches during the First World War, as he would not take up arms against his fellow men. My mother would not let me wear the Brownies (cub scouts) uniform, and my grandfather always argued with my father, an arch conservative, that all wars were due to economics with religious overtones.

That was then. Nothing has changed except that the word ‘corporate’ has now crept in. Most of the world’s population is too busy trying to survive to understand the wider view of the world. Many of the middle-class know only what they read in the papers and what they see on television. Much of the media is slanted.

So, what does this have to do with the Kalasha, you may ask?

Since the Americans invaded Afghanistan, journalists have contacted me from Islamabad seeking information on the Kalasha, in respect to the number of Muslim converts. There have even been calls from New York. One journalist did his best to put words into my mouth. Others have slanted their questions. It is not always foreign reporters, though local media people are in a minority.

Recently, I received two polite, thoughtful letters from someone in an official capacity in New York. As I am always writing to Unesco or other such bodies, this came as no surprise, but the questions again reminded me of these journalists with their slanted views of the Kalasha.

Conversion is the most popular subject. Why? In fact, whose business is it if a Kalasha person should convert? Is it the business of the media, or of any organisation, unless it is a local one contacted by the Kalasha? Of course, conversions take place, and there was a time when the numbers dropped and the Kalasha and their friends were concerned that, due to their own ignorance and vulnerability, they might disappear. After all, the whole of Chitral was once Kalasha and the valleys of Shishiku, Urtsoon and Jingeret Ku were Kalasha.

The numbers are now going back up. The Kalasha are a wily people, as otherwise they would never have survived this long. They are now acquiring education and many now realise that they have something unique and have no wish to lose their culture.

In all the years I have been here, the word discrimination has not come readily to my lips, unlike the word exploitation.

Subjects, upon which I was questioned in regard to discrimination, included education, deforestation, court cases and sale of land.

Many of us have been fighting the cutting of timber for years. This issue is not one of discrimination but destruction of the environment for personal gain by locals, be they Kalasha or Muslim, local contractors, who, in the past, were always Muslim, (this is no longer so) and corrupt politicians. The same goes for court cases.

Although there has been a long running case between Kalasha and Muslims from an adjacent area, there are cases where Kalasha are pitted against Kalasha and Muslim against Muslim — the actual land and forest area being the pivot, not the religious denomination of the people involved. There has been a long running court case between the valley of Birir and Bumburet.

Where the Kalash have been particularly exploited is in the realm of loans, especially by the Agricultural Bank. Financial loans to people who have little means of earning money, and are not even that used to it (it is only in fairly recent years that money took over from the barter system), are bound to get their fingers burned. Then, as with the very poor who ‘buy on tic’ some sugar and chai from the local dukan and are suddenly forced to part with their beans, the more affluent lose their land. Whether they are Kalasha or Muslim is neither here nor there.

One statement amused me not a little when it was said that the Kalasha were discriminated against by not being given government positions. A grade-17 officer friend of mine from Peshawar, is unhappy because he can’t get promoted to grade 18; he feels he is being unfairly discriminated against. To be part of that scenario, the person first has to have an excellent education, something which escapes more than half the population of Pakistan. It is only in recent years, that the Kalasha have had an opportunity to avail themselves of education; thanks, initially, to the hard work of Shakil Durrani when he was DC of Chitral.

Even here, it was stated that the Kalasha are discriminated against in schools and in their textbooks. No doubt, in the past there may well have been incidents, but now the Kalasha have their own government schools as well as community ones. When Gen Musharraf was in power, a Kalasha alphabet, based on the Latin script, was legalised in Kalasha schools. True, the government schools have text books slanted towards Islam, but steps are being taken to change this. There is, however, one anomaly which also must be changed — Kalasha with Pakistani ID cards do not have their religion stamped on them; either it is blank or Bhuddism is written.

The most likely situations to provoke difficulty between Kalasha and Muslim are often caused by outsiders; either Pakistani male tourists, keen on flirting with Kalasha women, or foreign do-gooders on their own or naïve NGOs. One such organisation introduced chickens as a means of livelihood. Chickens are taboo in Kalasha culture. In my own extended family, two brothers, one a converted Muslim, fought over a chicken flying on to the roof.

Ignorance on the part of the general population, journalists after a ‘good’ story, and NGOs which have not done their homework, can cause more harm than the occasional conversion of a Kalasha woman wishing to better herself by marrying a Muslim flashing rupee notes.