RAWALPINDI: The skies over the garrison city were dotted with kites of all shapes and sizes on Thursday night and Friday as the citizens of Rawalpindi defied a province-wide ban on kite-flying to celebrate the traditional spring festival of Basant.
Cries of “Bo Kata” rang out as residents of localities such as Raja Bazaar, Mohanpura, Arjan Nagar, Dhoke Ratta, Asghar Mall Road, Gawalmandi, Liaquat Road, College Road, Dhoke Khabba, Amarpura and Tipu Road gathered across rooftops to welcome the spring season. At night, white kites were visible across the heavens while during the day, a milieu of colourful kites adorned the skies.
Despite an official ban, the price of a simple guddi (kite) was Rs30 each, while standard kite string was available for Rs500 to Rs1,000 on the open market.
One killed, 60 injured by kite string, stray bullets; police arrest 60 for violating ban
A number of people also suffered injuries from falling off rooftops, but no one was seriously injured, Dr Sheikh Umer of the DHQ Hospital told Dawn.
Several people Dawn spoke to were against the ban on kite-flying, but nearly everyone agreed that the most harmful aspect of the activity was the use of dangerous chemical-coated kite string.
Abdullah Khan, 19, from the Asghar Mall area, said that the kite flying should not be banned. “Some people misused the freedom, but the government should stop those using chemical strings and let others who used simple strings go about their business,” he said.
However, Raja Muhammad Khan, a 50-year-old trader, alleged that policemen themselves had been selling kites. “Kite flying should be banned. Firing into the air went unchecked all night. The Punjab government failed to implement the ban on kite flying, one can only imagine how it would implement the National Action Plan,” said former nazim and PTI Punjab Vice President Raja Tariq Kiyani.
He said that a public space should be allocated for those who wanted to celebrate the Basant festival, but it was strange to allow them to fly kites in thickly-populated areas and toy with the lives of innocent people.
Rawalpindi Commissioner Zahid Saeed admitted that police did not actively prevent kite flying in the city. “I directed the district coordination officer (DCO) and city police officer (CPO) to enforce the writ of the government, but they failed,” he said.
The ugly side of Basant also reared its head as celebratory firing into the air continued unchecked in the garrison city. A teenage boy was killed and more than 60 people were injured in kiteflying-related incidents. Some 50 people were also taken into custody for violation of the kite-flying ban on Friday.
The Rawalpindi DHQ Hospital attended to 14 victims of kitestring wounds, known as ‘manja’, while 16 others were brought to the hospital with bullet-related injuries.
‘Manja’ is dangerous because it is mummed and coated with powdered glass; the strings are made dangerously sharp to better cut through opponents’ strings during kite fights.
“One of those injured by a stray bullet died after the bullet pierced his skull,” a doctor at the emergency room told Dawn.
City Police Officer Israr Ahmad Abbasi looked helpless in the face of the overwhelming number of kiteflying violations in the city, but said that no deaths due to kite flying had been reported thus far.
Benazir Bhutto Hospital attended to at least ten injured people, while the Holy Family Hospital received 15 injured.
Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2015