Basant ban: Pakistan snaps a thread from its own culture

Lahore, Pakistan – Qasim Hussain, a vegetable vendor, was hopeful of celebrating Basant this year after Pakistan’s provincial government of Punjab announced the lifting of a 13-year-old ban on flying of kites.

But the decision was soon retracted, much to Hussain’s disappointment. He also claims he was arrested and beaten by the police last year for flying kites, a staple during Basant (spring festival).

In 2005, Pakistan’s Supreme Court imposed a ban on the manufacture, trade or even flying of kites. The court said it was a precautionary measure to prevent lives since kite strings were laced with chemicals.

Police official Muhammad Razzaq told Al Jazeera that three surveillance teams were deployed in Lahore city to check kite-flying from the rooftops.

“That is why you don’t see any kites flying in the sky,” he said, adding that anybody violating the order would be immediately arrested.

Basant used to be a source of income for many households in Pakistan. But the ban has made them either unemployed or forced them to take up other jobs.

Zia Qamar, a former kitemaker, owned two shops that he and his brother Yusuf inherited from their father, Ustad Qammaruddin.

He says the family hasn’t recovered financially and is trying to make ends meet since the ban.

Yusuf Salahuddin, member of the Walled City Lahore Association, said a committee to ensure safe kite-flying was formed, but they never held a meeting. He says the government should find a solution.

Salahuddin also wonders why the ban on Basant was imposed only in Lahore and not in other cities.

Salahuddin told Al Jazeera that despite the ban, Lahore is still the hub of kite manufacturing and even exports them to Afghanistan.

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