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Kalasha under threat

December 05, 2018


HOW Pakistan treats its minorities is discouragingly open knowledge, even while sane efforts to protect human rights and dignity continue. The latest reminder of this is the fact that on Monday, the National Commission for Human Rights took notice of complaints regarding the rights of the Kalasha people living in three valleys in the north of the country. The complaint, filed by a public representative who requested anonymity for fear of attracting the wrath of some non-Kalasha locals, put on record that stone tablets and tombstones carrying inscriptions about the customs and traditions of the Kalasha people were being vandalised and used for purposes such as co nstruction.

The NCHR has issued a notice to the National History and Heritage Division, asking for immediate action and the submission of a report within 14 days. This is encouraging, but it is certainly not enough. Of all Pakistan’s many minority communities, the Kalasha people are amongst the most at risk culturally, and need state support to preserve their heritage. The tablets and tombstones being vandalised, for example, are the only inscribed record of this community’s traditions, there being no other material carrying the Kalasha script. Ironically, just last week, the community’s Suri Jagek practice, that involves the observation of celestial bodies, was approved by Unesco for inclusion in this year’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. This refers to living heritage that is under threat. A lot remains to be done by the state to protect the Kalasha people and their culture. An inquiry into the vandalising of tablets and tombstones can only go so far. In this context, an awareness-raising drive stressing the importance of societal inclusiveness is necessary. Other communities of the area that exceed the Kalasha in terms of numbers need to be made aware of this. This is where an official forum such as the NCHR can play a pivotal role.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2018