பட்டம் விடுவது இஸ்லாமிய தெய்வத்துக்கு பிடிக்காது என்று இஸ்லாமிய மதத்து மதகுருக்கள் அறிவித்துள்ளனர்
June 21, 2008, 11:57PM
Kite lovers flying against religious winds in Pakistan
Critics say the sport is unsafe and has no place in an Islamic republic
By JAMES PALMER
Newhouse News Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN — Iqbal Aslam and four buddies meandered through the narrow alleyways.
Centuries-old brick houses and apartment buildings loomed over them, shrouding the streets in a surreal dusk.
Upon reaching their destination, they knocked on the white metal door of a five-story brick edifice. A man opened it, Aslam's group nodded at him and then set off to climb a winding cement staircase to the roof that overlooks a city of nearly 10 million people.
Then, Aslam did something completely illegal here: He pulled out a kite and cast it skyward.
As Pakistan, the sixth-largest nation in the world, struggles to implement democratic reforms, the kite flying ban is another intriguing battle between social moderates and religious conservatives over the place of Islam within society.
On one side are those who contend kite flying has no link to Muslim customs, and therefore has no place in the Islamic republic, where 97 percent of the country's 165 million people are Muslims.
On the other are those clinging to the tradition of a popular sport.
And caught in the middle are the people who make and fly kites.
"Part of our life and history is fading away," said Shahid Malik, a 49-year-old kite flier.
Kite-flying ban unpopular
In 2005, Pakistan's supreme court banned kite flying across the country. The lawyers who presented the case for the prohibition cited three key reasons in their argument:
• Banned metal string from stray kites was fatally cutting the throats of motorcyclists and bicyclists.
• Children were being injured or killed chasing fallen kites.
• People retrieving fallen kites from cables with metal wires were being electrocuted and causing millions of dollars of damage to the country's power authority.
Those reasons aside, the ban is not popular with many — especially those who argue their leaders have surrendered to the influence of religious conservatives.
"Kite flying is not permissive in Islam according to some religious elements," said S.M. Masud, 70, an attorney who argued against the ban. "The government has used all tactics to stop it."
But, he continued, "kite flying is in the blood of the people here. You can't stop it."
The current clash has its roots in Basant — an ancient Hindu festival celebrating spring. Basant is highlighted by thousands of people flying kites from rooftops.
According to historian Tahir Kamran, a Hindu boy named Haquiqat Rai was charged with blaspheming Islam and sentenced to death in the mid-18th century. The Qazi, or Muslim magistrate, offered to spare Rai's life if he converted to Islam. Rai refused and was executed. To honor Rai and protest his killing, Hindus in Lahore flew kites across the city.
"Orthodox Islamists view kite flying as having antecedents in Hinduism and therefore anti-Islamic," said Kamran, who chairs the history department at Government College University in Lahore.
Both sides cite safety
Laqman Qazi, a high-ranking member of Jamaat Islami, an Islamist political party here, stated it more bluntly: "Basant is from the Indian culture and has nothing to do with us."
Kite flying here is a highly competitive sport that traces its roots nearly 3,000 years to China.
Serious flyers battle in the sky to cut their opponent's twine and send the attached kite fluttering to the ground in defeat.
Traditionally, string was cotton coated with wheat-flour, dye and finely ground glass. However, recently, metal-reinforced, glass-coated string has fatally severed the necks of unsuspecting pedestrians and cyclists.
The one point Pakistanis on both sides of the new debate agree on is that "the reinforced string is too dangerous for people on the ground," Aslam said.
But those fighting the ban fault the country's leaders for failing to simply prohibit the sale and use of the reinforced string.
"Many argue that other sports, such as Formula 1 racing, is dangerous but it's not banned," said Masud, the attorney. "We need to develop rules and regulations to reduce the dangers."
The government's prosecuting attorney in the Punjab province, Shabbir Ahmad Lali, countered that "it would be very difficult to enforce" a metal-string law.
Despite a potential penalty of four years in jail and a fine of 100,000 Pakistani rupees — about $1,500 — Aslam and his friends took to the inner-city rooftop one late afternoon last month.
At first, one kite drifted alone in the sky. Then, others slowly appeared, including one launched from a nearby rooftop that engaged in several clashes.
It was a cautious act of defiance.
A tradition, if only barely, had been preserved another day.