Feb 21, 2009

Basant in Lahore

Although hectic revelry was associated with it during the first few years of the Musharraf regime, for some time now the Basant season has been a low-key affair because of the number of casualties caused by careless kite-flying as well as the raucous festivities associated with it.
Come spring and nostalgia is evident. Should we or shouldn’t we? This question is often posed as if celebrating Basant and ensuring safety of life are not compatible.
For those opposed to the festival, kite-flying has spawned excitement and dangers lethal to societal order. The festival has become almost synonymous with cut-throat kite strings, firing and power breakdowns, it is argued.
Basant’s supporters say that the festival is imbued with a democratising, egalitarian spirit and that it makes a lot of economic and cultural sense, especially in times of low growth and pervasive doubts about Pakistan’s image as a happy nation confident about its traditions.
There is truth and merit in both arguments. Unfortunately, the positions taken tend to be extreme and few have shown a moderate approach towards the festival. Not that there has been any serious effort at any level — by citizens, civil society or the government — to investigate what the middle ground in this case could be.
The onus lies on the government to find one. The authorities should commission a study involving sociologists, psychologists, policemen and public safety officials to find out how and why Basant has become as dangerous as it has over the years. The study should also identify possible ways and means to let the festival and its spirit thrive without resulting in chaos and death.
Basant is too important a sociocultural occasion for Lahore to let it die without a serious and concerted effort at making it a safe and regular affair.

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