ISLAMABAD: The identity of the indigenous Kalash people is facing extinction, the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) has warned in a report.

Titled The Protection, Preservation and Promotion of Constitutional Rights of Indigenous Kalash People, the report said that “unwilling conversions and cajoled marriages with non-Kalash” are some of the “immediate threats” facing the community.

The report’s findings were shared at a press conference called on Wednesday evening by NCHR Chairman retired Justice Ali Nawaz Chohan. During the conference, he said the Kalash population has fallen to roughly 4,000 people.

The report said the Kalash people have been denied their right to land and forests, and a lack of a specific quota for them in government employment also causes them hardship. It described the preservation of their culture as an ‘SOS call’, and called on the federation and the province to take responsibility and help.

Mr Chohan added that there are no colleges in the Kalash valley, and school education is also poor. “Unfortunately, the Kalash are not taught anything of their culture and are made to read books from the curriculum meant for Muslims. This is conversion through subtle indoctrination,” he said.

‘Unwilling conversions, cajoled marriages with non-Kalash the immediate threats to community’

The NCHR chairman also pointed to a lack of interest on the part of the provincial government and the federal Ministry of Heritage when it came to preserving a centuries-old culture.

The report, spread over 20 pages with colourful photographs, said that the Kalash customary law have been passed down orally and could be forgotten if it is not recorded. It said that since the Kalash people do not have a script, a methodology had to be evolved to codify their customary law.

“The NCHR offers itself for the purposes of the codification of customary law, which will also relate to different aspects of day-to-day life of the Kalash people,” Mr Chohan said.

He said: “The time for Kalash is now and there is not a moment to waste because we fear there is much to lose. As an example of the diversity of our great nation, it is on individuals and institutions to protect the rights of a minority that has prospered in these valleys for centuries and now are face to face with an existential threat.”

He added that the NCHR is preparing similar reports on minorities in Hazara and Tharparkar.

In response to a question, Mr Chohan said the year 2017 was the year of awakening to the significance of human rights. At the same time, 2017 was also the year of some of the worst human rights violations, for example the targeting of the Hazara community, he said.

“The gains were that the law protecting rights of transgender [people] was laid to which the NCHR contributed. The NCHR also suggested strict procedures to prevent extensive misuse of the blasphemy law and save Pakistan from embarrassment in the eyes of the world,” he said.

“2017 is a year of massive awakening in civil society and the government is now also sensitised and under pressure to implement international laws to safeguard the rights of the people. There is still so much work to be done,” he said.

Improving the police and the education systems were some of the challenges to tackle in 2018, he added.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2017

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