Kalash’s ‘uncrowned queen’ at centre of funds probe

ISLAMABAD: Lakshan Bibi, a Kalash lady who runs an NGO and is considered by many to be the uncrowned queen of the picturesque valley, is being accused by the ministry of women development of misappropriating public funds for building the Bashalanis – or special communal shelters – for keeping women during feminine cycles and pregnancies isolated from the general population. Kalash people consider women to be impure during “those special days”. Ordering an inquiry into the matter, officials of the ministry of women development said that Lakshan Bibi had built just four such communal lodges for expectant women and those in their monthly cycles, while undertaking to build 10 units. Bibi, however, rubbishes these charges. “If anyone has any doubt, they should personally visit the area and determine for themselves whether or not there is any construction on the ground.” Bibi, who runs the Kalash Indigenous Support Programme (KISP), signed a Rs19.619 million agreement with the ministry in 2007 for building these special women’s centers. Subsequently, the ministry released Rs5.157 million in 2008 as first installment for the project, stipulating submission of regular monthly progress reports for releasing the remaining money. Over the past two years, the KISP has submitted just one progress and financial utilisation report. The move, instigated by two “incisive” reports submitted by the DCO Chitral and the director-general (M&E) Planning and Development Department of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, clearly accusing Lakshan of failing to set up the required number of Bashalanis despite receiving “a huge grant” from the ministry. The Chitral DCO, who carried out an inspection of the project in 2009, reported instances of gross misappropriation of funds. He said that instead of 10, the KISP has built “just four Bashalinis” and assessed the work carried out to be worth only Rs700,000, adding that the inspection was carried out after having received “several complaints” and on the orders of the ministry.

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