Pakistan's ban on kite-flying strips city of its tradition

Ban on kite-flying in urban places means the end of a long-standing tradition in Lahore

Ban on kite-flying in urban places means the end of a long-standing tradition in Lahore

LAHORE, Pakistan – For the skies of Lahore, in northeastern Pakistan, to be decorated with kites in March is a centuries-long tradition – one that has recently been forced to end. In the last ten years, the deaths of hundreds of people – mostly children – has forced the government to ban the spring-welcoming festival known as Basant. 

The deaths coincided with a period when the festival had become increasingly popular in Pakistan, spreading from its historical home in Lahore throughout the country. But the sharp, often metal, strings used to detach kites during competitive kite fights have killed several children by cutting their throats, sparking the country-wide anger that has forced the government to ban the festival from taking place in main cities. 

“Festivity cannot be allowed at the cost of human life," says Tahir Ali, an insurance agent who supports the ban. “Those who are supporting this bloody festival, they should ask the parents of those children whose throats were cut by sharp strings.”

Despite the ban, many children have continued to fly kites and around and 100 youths have been arrested by police in different cities in the northeastern Punjab province for flying kites in city areas in the last two weeks. Some events have been organized on Lahore's outskirts but enthusiasm for this limited form of the traditional festival is muted.

“I miss those golden days when the skies of Lahore were filled with colorful kites, and the festival was taken as a festival rather than a passion,” says Ghulam Murtaza, who lives in one of Lahore's old towns, Moghalpura, which was once a hub for kite-flying events.

“We, the citizens of Lahore, are paying the price for wrongdoing of a handful people. The government instead of penalizing the whole city for their wrongdoing, should have penalized them,” he says.

Basant was taken to its zenith by former president General Pervez Musharraf, who made it an international event between 2004 to 2008. The event promoted Lahore as the country's cultural hub and prompted citizens to rent out the roofs of their homes for use in kite-flying events throughout the month. 

The banning of kite-flying has not only stripped bare Lahore's traditional celebrations, it has also limited such entrepreneurial opportunities for Lahoris – including kite-makers like Nazir Hussein. 

“The ban has not only stolen a great amount of festivity from us but has rendered thousands jobless,” says Hussein. “Many would earn livelihood by renting their rooftops, hundreds would earn money through event management, food supplies, kite-making, and other businesses.”

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