Finally, there is some good news for lovers of kite-flying. The twelve-year ban on the city’s best loved festival might just go away, as a formal committee is constituted on the orders of the Chief Minister of the Punjab, Sardar Usman Buzdar, to look into suggestions to bring Basant back.
Traditionally, Basant was traditionally celebrated every year at the beginning of spring — in the first week of February. This would also kick off the ‘Jashn-e-Baharan’ activities around town.
Basant remained a major tourist attraction at the national and international levels until a ban was slapped on kite-flying circa 2006. The preparations for the festival would begin months in advance, and the shops would start stocking up kites, kite ropes, fireworks, horns, whistles, and related materials. The common people, young and old alike, would look forward to it as a day of communal festivity.
The festival attracted the wrath of its detractors when the size of the kite’s string thickened — it was coated with greater amounts of glass fibre — and metallic wire and nylon cord (tandi) were brought into use. While its purpose was only to strengthen the string to a level where it cannot easily be severed, its drawbacks were now coming to the fore, thanks to a belligerent media that reported deaths and injuries routinely caused by the razor-sharp string.
The ban was placed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan as a response to the loss of human lives. The persistent damage caused to WAPDA’s infrastructure also cemented the decision.
Interestingly, there have been many committees in the past that recommended suggestions to lift the ban (on Basant) and make the festival more secure. In January 2018, one such committee submitted a proposal before the former chief minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif. It proposed the Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) regarding the use of glass-coated string vis-à-vis the safety of bikers in the streets. It was rejected.
Kamran Lashari, former deputy commissioner of Lahore who is also known as the key person who changed the face of Basant in the old city, says that the concerned authority should have formulated solution-oriented methods instead of simply abolishing a centuries old, happy festival. “The management’s job is to find a solution. Lack of seriousness and commitment are the reasons why such a colourful festival was discontinued.
“Basant is the only festival in Pakistan which cut through all classes,” he adds. “It was a true example of social integration and harmony, fun and joy for all. Also, it was a credible source of money flow.”
Lashari suggests “only two steps”: check the sharpness of the string, and ban the motorbikes for the Basant day and night. “It might be difficult to revive the glory of kite-flying, but we should keep trying nonetheless.”
It may be mentioned here that the members of different kite-flying associations have often suggested to the authorities to ban charkhi and allow only the pinna (the spool), to discourage the use of the thick twine which is the main source of fatalities and injuries. Moreover, the size of the kite should be reduced to 2-1/2 tawwa gudda and 5 gith patang that only require the conventional, thin thread.
“The Benjamin Franklin axiom that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ applies to kite-flying perfectly,” says Khalid Malik, a senior member of the Kiteflying Association of Pakistan (KAP).
“Introducing the conventional size of the string would play a vital role in securing the festival. Traditionally, the type of thread used for kite-flying was the same that was used in stitching; it was thin, had little glass fibre, and was quite harmless as the string didn’t have the capacity to resist a jerk or weight.”
“The size of the kite shall automatically be reduced if the thickness of the string is brought under control,” he adds. “Normally, smaller kites are used at night because the wind is strong at that time. If the string is thin, you cannot use it for bigger kites in daylight even.”
According to Malik, “Solutions were offered several times to the previous government but its response was cold. We even asked the government to take onboard all stakeholders including the kite-makers, sellers and shopkeepers, who could help the government to bring this huge business under the tax net. To no avail.”
Sadly, the production of the thick string continues unabated, which is why the police is reported as catching kite-flyers and sellers every now and then, in different parts of the province.
A member of the KAP says, on condition of anonymity, that the makers are still running their thread production units in remote areas of southern Punjab and parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa: “They are involved in the illegal export of the thread to Europe where kite-flying is normally held around the beaches.”
There are laws in place to check the dangers involved. Section 2 of the Punjab Prohibition of Kite-flying Ordinance, 2001 says, “Flying of a kite at any place with metallic wire, nylon cord (tandi) or any other thread coated with sharp maanjha (a mixture of chemicals and ground glass or any other harmful material) which endangers or is likely to endanger human life or property is prohibited.”
According to Section 3 and 4 of the said ordinance, “The act of manufacturing, storing, and selling of kite, and kite-flying with the prohibited and dangerous material would be cognisable and non-bailable offence.”
Section 4-A makes registration mandatory for every manufacturer, trader, and seller of kites and related materials, with the City District Government of Lahore (CDGL).
The punishment for any violations, under the ordinance, is six months’ imprisonment or Rs100,000 as fine, or both. “It [the punishment] is not in accordance with the heinous crimes people commit,” says lawyer and human rights activist Abdullah Malik. “Mostly, the government prefers implementing Article 144 of CrPC 1898 (Code of Criminal Procedure) in spite of amending the ordinance 2001 and introducing strict punishments.
“Banning a festival like Basant would only deprive the common people of a cheap, inexpensive sport. Accidents happen, but they should not deter us from stepping out of the house. Similarly, it is the government’s duty to make the event secure. Unfortunately, the entire public has been held hostage to, because of a few bad elements, and the incompetence of the authorities.”
Government’s commitment to effective management, coupled with cooperation from the general public can help to bring the wonderful festival back on permanent basis, he states. “The people must also cooperate with the police in identifying those engaged in making and trading in chemical-coated string.”