Basant is around the corner. And so are Basant controversies. Actually, let me change that. Basant controversies are already upon us.
First it was the Punjab government announcing that they would set up a body to ensure safe kite-flying. Then there was the proclamation that Basant WILL be celebrated in Lahore with traditional ‘fervor.’ And now there is news that the Supreme Court has called in the Punjab government to explain why they would defy a stay order that had been issued.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Just to keep the record straight, let me first say what this story is NOT about. This is not, yet, a story about whether Basant is ‘Islamic’ or not (as if kites have religion!). At least, it is not about that YET. I have a feeling that it soon will be.
Just to keep the record straight: this is NOT about religion (as if kites have religion!). At least, it is not about that YET. I have a feeling that it soon will be.
I use the picture above (originally from Zakintosh’s currently dormant blog), partly because I find it both silly and funny, but also because it reminds me to point out that the Supreme Court that has just questioned the Punjab government on why it is going ahead with Basant plans despite its (the Supreme Court’s) orders is currently lead by Acting Chief Justice Rana Bhagwandas, a Hindu (see picture on left). The layers of meaning – most of them uncalled for, and unimportant – that can and will be derived from this are legion.
Just to keep the record straight, this is not about religion (as if kites have religion!). At least, it is not about that YET. I have a feeling that it soon will be. I use the picture above (originally from ), partly because I find it both silly and funny, but also because it reminds me to point out that (see picture on left). The layers of meaning – most of them uncalled for, and unimportant – that can and will be derived from this are legion.
The story, at the moment, is about safety. Personally, I think that is a much more important story. Last week, according to the Daily Times, the Punjab government decided "to give legal authority to a registered body of kite manufacturers and traders to ensure safe kite-flying." It was further reported that:
The body will have a constitution and self-defined regulations and will be legally authorised by the provincial government to issue licences to the kite and string manufacturers and vendors. The body will determine the rules relating the types and sharpness of string and the size of kites. The body will be held responsible for violations of its rules. There is a proposal to fine it if it fails to identify and stop the violators.
A BBC story (January 5) explained the context of the decision:
The Supreme Court outlawed the sport in 2005 after several people were killed by glass-coated or metal kite strings. Basant, which begins on 25 February, is popular with tourists but religious leaders say kite-flying is un-Islamic. Metal or glass-coated strings help cut the strings of rival kites – the main objective of the sport. But they can catch unsuspecting bikers across the throat, at times with fatal consequences. Metal string can also cause short-circuits in overhead power cables, leading to heavy losses for electricity utilities.
It is in this context that the Supreme Court has now intervened. According to The News (6 January):
The Supreme Court (SC) has taken strong exception to the Punjab governmentÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s announcement about allowing kite flying and Basant festival celebration, citing it as a violation of the courtÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s directives. The SC on Friday served notices on the Punjab chief secretary and the advocate-general, directing them to appear in the court on January 22 to explain the Punjab governmentÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s position in this regard. The full bench of the Supreme Court, comprising acting Chief Justice Rana Bahgwandas, Justice Saiyed Saeed Ashhad and Justice Hamid Ali Mirza in Karachi issued the orders on the reports of the Punjab governmentÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s decision of granting arbitrary permission to flying of kites. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe decision of the Punjab government appears to be violative of the court direction,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? rules the order of Justice Rana Bhagwandas… The Supreme Court had banned the making, selling and buying and flying of kites across the country…. The Punjab government, however, held a Basant festival last year in the name of Jashn-e-Baharan after seeking due relaxation from the Supreme Court. The apex court had granted 15-day relief period for kite flying starting on February 25, 2006, that was to expire on March 10. The Punjab government, however, had sought extension for another five days that the Supreme Court had granted.
Of course, this is not likely to be a major conflict between the court and the Provincial government. Accoridng to The News:
A spokesman of Punjab government, while clarifying the news item appearing in the national press regarding celebration of Basant in Lahore, said in a press release that that the ban on kite flying will remain intact and the government has allowed celebration of this festival only on the night of 24th February and the day of 25th February, 2007. The spokesman stated that Supreme Court will also be consulted in order to adopt a strategy regarding Basant and all measures would be taken in the light of Supreme CourtÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s decision and instructions issued in this regard.
The Province will probably argue that it has thought through new rules which will make the festival safe. The BBC report suggests what the Punjab case might be:
Officials said the regulations, announced by the government on Thursday, would be presented before the Supreme Court for approval. Under the new proposals: metal-reinforced and glass-coated strings are banned; only cotton strings up to a certain thickness are allowed; kites larger than 2×2 feet, that require a thicker string, are prohibited; kite strings can only be coated with wheat-flour glue, dye and soft, finely-ground glass. In an attempt to regulate kite-making and kite-flying, the government says it will issue licences to retailers selling kites and strings, and only those dealers and manufacturers who are members of a single association registered under the Companies Act would qualify.
My own prediction on this is that the safety related story will soon fizzle out, and a religion based argument will again ensue. This, I think, is unfortunate because safety is a very real and pressing concern.
Personally, I like the idea of Basant but have never liked the festival itself. This is largely because I actually saw a little kid killed right in front of me one depressing Basant in the mid-1980s. That image is forever imprinted on my mind.
The solution, however, is not to ban the festival. It is, instead, to take real and meaningful steps to make it fun but safe. Some of the steps suggested above could be good. But one wonders about the likelihood of implementation. This business about giving licenses to kite and string sellers will, most probably jack up the price for over the counter sales while creating a new – and possibly more dangerous – black market for ‘bootleg’ kites and string. However, the idea of a citizen’s committee – if it could truly be a citizen’s committee – to oversee things is a good one and just might enforce things in ways that the official custodians of regulations possibly cannot.