Chitral Today
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Cricket as a tool to accommodate the Kalasha in Pakistan

Minority groups from various countries have represented their national sides throughout history. Ever since the gentleman’s game was born, minorities from an array of backgrounds have striven hard to play the game for their respective countries. There have been instances when the black majority of South Africa for example, were unable to hold the willow or grasp the leather amid the controversial Apartheid system. Yet history aside, the inclusion of minorities often acts as a lesson for nations which are struggling with internal sectarian rife. Zaheer Khan for example, has been the spearhead of the Indian attack and represents thousands of Muslims who aspire to play for India. Similarly, Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka was the only ethnic Tamil in a predominantly Sinhalese Sri Lankan team for quite some time, and acted as a unifying force in a country, which was divided on ethnic lines. In a predominantly Muslim country such as Pakistan however, the Kalash tribe, with its unique set of customs, rituals and norms, have been endangered by exogenous influences such as the Taliban and hostility from the locals in Chitral. Their practices, which encompass an array of Pagan rituals, stand in stark contrast to the conservative, Islamic surroundings that envelope them. They are not well represented in a country like Pakistan, and continue to live their lives as herdsmen with a largely, bucolic lifestyle. For them, representing Pakistan in any area such as cricket, borders on the preposterous, as being subjugated to harassment, increased Islamization in the team or threats if they don’t perform well, are genuine fears amongst them. As a mega diverse country, with an array of cultures, Pakistan has had many cricketers who have hailed from ethnic minorities. Anil Dalpat and Danish Kaneria for example, were two of the most prominent players who played for the country, and were Hindus from the Marwari heritage. Similarly, Yousuf Youhana, (Now Mohammad Yousuf) was one of the handful of Christians who wore the green cap at the highest level. Yousuf was one of Pakistan’s leading batsmen and managed to single handedly win them games from precarious situations. Yet unlike the Kalasha, the Christians and Hindus of Pakistan are relatively well established minority groups in various localities in the country, such as Karachi. Karachi’s secular environment allows them to thrive, as compared to the hostilities that many of them tend to face in places such as Punjab and Baluchistan. The Kalash on the other hand, are limited in their outlook, their pastoral lifestyle, and their doctrinal compromises with nature. Cricket for them, is nothing more than an alien concept, which could be a distraction from the norms that constitute their day. Being immersed in festivals such as ‘Joshi’ or ‘Uchao’ for example, seems to be the most important consideration for these people as compared to sports. The people of Chitral, ironically, are actively engaged in sports in Polo, and could easily captivate the Kalash people into playing the sport. That however, can be equated to a Grey Hound winning a London Derby. For the PCB however, reaching out to various groups who aim to play for the country can help them establish something quite unique. For anyone, representing a land that one grows up in is indeed a special feeling, regardless of religious affiliations. For the Kalash, the breathtaking scenery of Chitral, the land where their mothers bred them, and their few assets, should be instinctive enough to motivate them. The problem however, lies in a lack of awareness and access to communication, where the beaming images of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis could be witnessed from a distance. Pakistan is a nation with a youth bulge and various schemes are being promoted to instill tolerance, tranquility and peaceful co-existence amongst the masses, amid the turmoil. The Kalasha are citizens of Pakistan, as much as any Punjabi or Pathan, and could be targeted with schemes which promote a general understanding amongst various groups. History tells us that tensions have historically been diffused by initiatives such as ‘Cricket Diplomacy’. India and Pakistan, had managed to hone down their differences after they witnessed their star players performing on both sides of the border on numerous occasions. The only thing that goes against accommodating the Kalasha via Cricket Diplomacy is that the process is more deeply ingrained and involves people who are well established. The challenges for those who dare to venture, are thus, immense.–]]>

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