The Kalash in quarantine

Hardly would there be a gallery in Pakistan where the colourful portraits of the uniquely beautiful Kalash women are not displayed. At every hotel one can see pictures of the Kalash girls in their traditional attire.

The Kalash culture is among the few things Pakistan can boast of as a tourist attraction. The print media carries features on the Kalash, sometimes with some poorly researched description of their traditions, rituals and festivals. The Kalash are usually termed as very mysterious people.

Some researchers trace their history back to Alexander the Great by asserting that they are the descendants of Alexander’s soldiers who were left in the area. However, latest research based on the archaeological findings in Chitral and Swat suggests that the Kalash tribe is the remnant of the Dards – an ancient nation that occupied northern Pakistan, northern Afghanistan and Kashmir. There is a great similarity of lexicon, syntax and grammar of the Kalasha language with that of the Dardic languages spoken by people in the region.

Forced conversion in the wake of invasions by outsiders compelled the Dards to quit their indigenous worldview and shift to Hinduism, Buddhism and later to Islam. There are still many ethnic groups in the region that converted to Islam just three or four centuries ago. Among these ethnic groups the present Kalash people have still retained their own worldview to some extent.

On the one hand they are unique and add to the cultural diversity of Pakistan – and consequently to the tourism industry – while on the other they are the signposts of a lost history. Owing to their unique traditions and way of life they are presented to the world with apparent pride. But what is missing is care, respect and development by the state. The first time I visited the valley was in 2007. Almost seven years later I, unfortunately, have seen no improvement in the lives of the Kalash.

The Kalash people, who are now hardly 4,000 in number, are virtually living in fearful quarantine. They are the most disadvantaged members of our society who languish in utter misery, extreme social pressure and fear. The Kalash Valley borders with north Afghanistan where the Taliban rule. The Taliban recently issued a video threat to the Kalash and other tribes in Chitral asking for complete conversion or get ready for the worst.

The Kalash people are too scared to move freely in their mountain pastures where the Taliban slaughtered a Kalash youth and snatched over 1000 sheep. The Kalash are the soft victims of a certain mindset that is hell bent on targeting the Kalash faith. The predicament of the Kalash doesn’t end here. They are very resentful of the tourists, particularly Pakistanis, who visit their valley – not for any anthropological study. Most of these tourists merely go there for liquor and other such activities.

The young girls of the area are now tired of posing for pictures while the children have begun to beg money from those who take their photos. The kalash women are also harassed by these outsiders. The Pakistani government treats the Kalash people as show pieces. The culture, language and tradition of the Kalash are under threat and there seems no effort on the part of the government to preserve their language, culture and faith.

The government of Greece used to take initiatives to help the Kalash but since the worst depression hit Greece it has abandoned welfare or developmental work here. Fear, pressure, stigma, neglect and poverty have become the fate of the Kalash people. If Pakistan wants to have a respectable international image, it must take measures to protect its minorities.–The News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *