basant festivalIt wasn’t too long ago when Lahore was remembered for the festival of Basant. Celebrated in the month of February, the day marked the coming of spring. Rooftop parties were organized, concerts were held and special Basant fairs arranged which included stalls with handicrafts, pottery, textiles and various kinds of local and foreign cuisines. Day or night, the skies were speckled with colorful kites. My personal favorite was young children running after kites not caring about the plying traffic. This was indeed a day cherished by the upper and lower strata of our society.

The joys of Basant were not limited to the locals. At this time, foreigners flocked to Lahore to participate in the festivities. From five-star hotels to the street vendor, everyone experienced a surge in profits. Kite-makers and event mangers would actually spend months planning Basant activities.

But like with most things, Basant also had its flaws. Celebrations often turned fatal due to inadequate security measures. The most common danger was of that of the sharp string used for flying kites. It caused many injuries, sometimes even the death of innocent motorcyclists and bystanders. A strong durable string was preferred by flyer which was prepared by using chemicals or crushed glass coatings. Other causalities included those from aerial firing or falls from the rooftops.

While these deaths are in no way trivial, the manner in which the government chose to deal with the danger had long term repercussions.  More than 150,000 people in Lahore and another 18000 in Gujranwala and Kasur associated with the kite-flying sport lost their jobs. Overnight, kite-makers lost their prime sources of income and had to search for other means of livelihood. Home-based kite-makers especially women who relied on this event to raise some extra income for their family, were left high and dry. Since then they have struggled to find employment due to their limited professional skills.

Ever since the ban, kite-flyers and kite-makers have been pushing the government to reverse their decision. The recently appointed Punjab caretaker government under Najam Sethi decided to change the decision and even picked April 14th as the day to celebrate Basant. High level meetings were held to discuss arrangements but in the end, the proposal failed. While many censure this action, it is important to appreciate the non-violent effects that went into reaching a decision. Meetings were held with different stakeholders including the police, district government officials and members of the kite-flying association. Security measures for motorcyclists were offered while the venue for kite-flying was decided to be away from the Lahore city in particular Jallo Park and Safari Park. This was indeed a good step away from the violent nature of arrests executed to implement the ban and arrest kite-makers. One can hope that until adequate security can be guaranteed and the ban is lifted, the government will try to assist those linked to this industry through vocational trainings for alternative jobs or start up funds for new businesses. It could even try to keep the art of kite-making alive by exporting kites abroad. Safety standards and quality assurance can be supervised by the All Pakistan Kite Flying Association. 

Basant is one proof that Pakistan is more than just a nation of corrupt politicians and terrorists. Its people are caring, hospitable and aspire for an enjoying peaceful life. Let’s strive to keep this image from fading away.