Rights defenders worried over threats to existence of Kalash

By Ikram Junaudi and photos courtesy: Ishpata News

ISLAMABAD: Representatives of the Kalash community, human rights activists and elected public representatives on Thursday highlighted threats to the existence of the pagan tribe living in three small valleys in the southwest of Chitral.
They also stressed the need for the state to take remedial measures to protect the Kalash from being annihilated by conversion and cultural invasions.
They were speaking at a seminar titled “Consultation on challenges for the Kalash community: the way forward” organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
Speaking on the occasion, Gul Nazar from the Kalash valley said they are facing serious threats to change its religion.
“Our land is being occupied and names of local places being changed. However, the media is portraying only our dances rather than highlighting our problems.”
Ms Gul demanded that the Kalash area should be included in the World Heritage List in order to protect it.
“Development work should be carried out in the area and basic facilities such as healthcare and education should be provided to the Kalash community. Doctors come to the Kalash valleys during the summer season and go back as soon as the tourism season ends. The syllabus of education should be in the local language,” she said.
“Kalash people are not aware of their rights. On the other hand, people from other areas are occupying their land. Dozens of Kalash people have been forced to change their religion. We have been trying to protect our graveyards as people even steal the bones of our deceased,” she alleged.
Ms Gul, who also looks after a Kalash museum, said the museum had information about the Kalash people but around three dozen officials of the elite force are now deputed there due to which tourists were facing problems.
“When we approached the police officer of the area to address the issue, he said we cannot teach him archaeology and he could not teach us about security measures. So we had no option but to close the museum,” she said.
Luke Rehmat, another representative of the community, said the Kalasha religion was divided into pure and impure.
“Men cannot go to places where children are born and those who go to the delivery places cannot enter the respective village but tourists violate all these restrictions due to which the community suffers mentally as there are a number of stories (superstitions) associated with it,” he said.
“Our religious ways are being blocked and names of our places are being replaced with Muslim names such as Qaziabad and Ahmedabad,” he said.
Ali Ahmad Jan, the director of a civil society organisation, Sustainable Solution, said outsiders should not have the right to purchase land in the Kalash valleys like people of Pakistan cannot purchase land in Kashmir.
“Some religious groups have been working in the Kalash valleys and forcing people to convert to Islam. Once a Kalash person accepts Islam, they are not allowed to wear the traditional Kalash dress and even are suggested not speaking the local language. There are also some religious scholars who say every Muslim should convince six non-Muslims to accept Islam. As a result, forced conversions are on the rise in the Kalash valleys,” he said.
HRCP member Nasreen Azhar, who chaired the event, said the Kalash community land was being occupied by outsiders and a large number of constructions were underway in the area.
“People from other areas also go there to build restaurants. There is a need to look into all these issues,” she said.

Senator Farhatullah Babar said the Kalash community should move their case with the parliamentary committee for the marginalised people. He said every person had the right to live and practice their religion in Pakistan.

Member National Assembly (MNA) Shahzada Iftikharuddin from Chitral, where the Kalash valleys are located, said there were severe security challenges in the area and the state had to fulfill its responsibility.-Published in Dawn on May 26, 2017


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