By Aamir Latif
Skies of northeastern Lahore city -- the country’s cultural hub -- will be decorated again with kites after over a decade, as the government on Tuesday announced to lift a ban on the spring welcoming Basant or the Kite-flying festival.
“The government has decided to lift the ban and celebrate the Basant festival in the second week of February [next year],” Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan, the information minister of Punjab province, announced at a press conference in the provincial capital Lahore.
The festival -- mainly celebrated in both Indian and Pakistani Punjab provinces -- was banned in 2007 following the deaths of hundreds of people -- mostly children. The festival was partially allowed to be celebrated in 2008 and 2009.
Despite the official ban, kite-flying could not be fully controlled by the authorities as kite lovers, mainly youths celebrated the festival amid arrests and deaths in the last eleven years.
The deaths coincided with a period when the festival had become increasingly popular in Pakistan, spreading from its historical home in Lahore to other parts of the country.
But the sharp, often metal, strings used to detach kites during competitive kite fights killed several children by cutting their throats, sparking the countrywide anger that forced the government to ban the festival from taking place in main cities.
“The people of Punjab will surely celebrate Basant in coming February. But, the government will strictly ensure the safety measures, including ban on use of metal strings and aerial firing to protect human lives,” Chohan said, adding that a committee has been set up by the Punjab government to finalize the safety recommendations.
Basant was taken to its zenith by former President Pervez Musharraf, who made it an international event between 2004 to 2008. The event promoted Lahore as the country's cultural hub and prompted citizens to rent out the roofs of their homes for use in kite-flying events throughout the month.
Opponents of the festival appear to be angry over lifting of the ban terming it a “ license to kill.”
“Making a few thousands (kite lovers) happy while risking the lives of our children is not at all a wise decision,” Maaz Khan, a Lahore-based businessman, told Anadolu Agency.
“We have no objection if the government designates an open site for the kite lovers so that their metal strings and other actions do not threaten us. But allowing them to wreak havoc with our safety throughout the city, is simply a license to kill,” Khan said, referring to the use of metal strings and aerial firing from rooftops that killed and injured hundreds in recent years.
Syed Zulfiqar Hussain, a private organizer of Basant festival, for his part, hailed the revival of the festival saying the ban had not only deprived the city of a cultural tradition but also thousands of kite makers of their livelihood.
“We have nothing to do with metal strings or aerial firing. We will never allow any of its member to make and sell banned strings. It is, however, the government’s duty to maintain the law and order during the festival,” Hussain told Anadolu Agency.
“Protection of human lives is more important than any festivity,” he said, admitting that maintenance of protective measures during the festival would be a daunting task for the government.