Public policy: Do they want a safe Basant?

Published: February 28, 2011

(1) Kites seized from a warehouse in Shahdara on Sunday and file photos of (2) workers making string and (3) people posing with kites at a Walled City house .

(1) Kites seized from a warehouse in Shahdara on Sunday and file photos of (2) workers making string and (3) people posing with kites at a Walled City house . (1) Kites seized from a warehouse in Shahdara on Sunday and file photos of (2) workers making string and (3) people posing with kites at a Walled City house . (1) Kites seized from a warehouse in Shahdara on Sunday and file photos of (2) workers making string and (3) people posing with kites at a Walled City house .

LAHORE: Ahead of Basant in 2006, the city government fitted hundreds of motorbikes with wooden strips or metal wires, widely dubbed “antennas”. The idea was that these would act as shields against stray kite string, which had a habit of wrapping around motorcyclists’ throats. This simple and cheap measure was thought a factor in the significantly fewer casualties from the previous year: 40 were reported killed in Basant-related accidents in 2005, and 15 in 2006.

For the last two years though, including yesterday, kite-flying has not been allowed on Basant. Former city government officials say that several measures can be introduced to make the event acceptably safe, to the ultimate benefit of the kite and tourism industries, as well as kite-flying enthusiasts. But the government chose to ban it outright, indicating other motives for the restriction.

Khalid Sultan, who served as district coordination officer of Lahore between 2002 and 2005, says accidents occur in any sport or outdoor activity, but there are preventive measures that can minimise the risks.

Community involvement is key to making Basant safer, he said. Each neighbourhood should form a committee whose responsibility would be to report the use of metal wire or gunfire to the police, or resolve disputes between neighbours over loud music, for example. Committee members could read out safety measures at public places like mosques and bazaars.

How do we pay for this? Through licensing and taxation, says Sultan. Licensing kite-fliers and taxing parties could help raise money to erect check posts, compensate those injured during Basant and subsidise safety devices such as the motorcycle antennas.

“The ban shows that the government and the police are poor law enforcers but still keen on controlling people. If they fail to regulate something or enforce a certain law, they decide to ban it,” he said.

“We are propagating an escapist, defeatist mentality by allowing this ban. It has curbed economic activity and the only entertainment Lahoris had,” he said. Kite makers, event organisers and hotels are deprived of the tourism revenue associated with Basant, hurting an already moribund economy.

Sultan also queries the tacit assumption that all or even most of Basant-related deaths are caused by kite-flying. Most deaths, he said, occurred when young children, chasing stray kites as they drift to the ground, ran onto the roads and got run over by a vehicle or fell off their roof. Press reports from the time back up his assertion, showing that a large majority of the deaths on Basant in 2006 were of this nature.

Cases of motorcyclists getting killed by string are relatively rare, he said. And putting an “antenna” on motorcycles, as well as banning motorcycles for the Basant weekend, would significantly reduce such instances, he added.

The deaths and injuries, as well as damage to the power grid, caused when kites flown with metal twine get tangled in electricity lines could be curbed by regulating the manufacturers and locally through neighbourhood committees, he suggested.

Sheikh Saleem, the general secretary of the kite flying association, agrees that safety measures can be introduced to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on Basant. He suggested that engaging women in the event would automatically make it safer. “Every time a group of men come together, there is the possibility of fights resulting in firing. If wives, mothers and sisters participate, this will go down,” he says.

Another former DCO said the government, if and when it allows kite-flying on Basant, must plan it months in advance rather than leaving the question to the last minute, as it did this year. “The district and provincial governments should take a decision by December whether or not to hold Basant. A comprehensive plan for security and for engaging the public and different socio-religious groups could then be devised accordingly,” he said.

The former DCO said community policing of kite-flying wouldn’t be easy. Groups like the kite-flying associations or neighbourhood committees would be reluctant to file complaints about kite-flyers using metal wire or revellers shooting bullets into the sky, he said, for fear they would make enemies. They might be effective in some neighbourhoods, he said. “But they will not be effective in curbing aerial firing, alcohol consumption and blaring stereos at private parties,” he said.

Herein lies, perhaps, the real reason for the Basant ban.

Rao Akram, the chairman of the Anti-Kite Democratic Front, a group formed in 1995 to denounce the “immoral activities” that Basant supposedly encourages, is, naturally, delighted that the ban will stay in place this year. He wants kite-flying to remain banned even if it can be made safer. “Basant is just an excuse to hold mujras and drink alcohol,” he says.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2011.

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (15)

  • waqas
    Feb 28, 2011 - 10:07AM

    once i was a Lunatic flying kites day and night untill i heard a news that a child’s head cut away by the thread which is used to fly kites. i could not stop my tears falling from my eye. from that day i hate basant i donot fly kites any more. i request all to finish this bloody game forever.Recommend

  • Omar
    Feb 28, 2011 - 12:49PM

    I had been a avid kite flyer for over 30 years. Five years ago, It was unthinkable for me that Basant could be banned. But I gave up on it when I witnessed the death of a young boy on the Canal underpass. His throat was slit with stray ‘door’ while riding a motorbike with ‘antenna’ on his way back from work.

    His young brother’s cry for help are still fresh in my mind. Rescue 1122 guys could not do anything to stop the blood gushing out from his slit throat. They reached there in hardly a minute.

    For people encapsulated in the safety of car cabin, it is difficult to understand the perils which a family on bike faces during basant.

    Does money pouring in from Tourism, or avenues of enjoyment over ride the value of one human life. Basant (fite flying) is not a necessity and can be avoided.Recommend

  • Jeddy
    Feb 28, 2011 - 1:06PM

    Accidents happen everywhere. Even during cricket matches players get hurt, and if the ball crashes on someone’s head at very high speed it can be fatal. That does not mean people should stop playing cricket. Basant is moment of tremendous economic activity. Lots of kites are sold, people wear clothes for the occasion. It is a festival (religion has nothing to do with it). Our politicians should not go against the people on this, instead let the people enjoy themselves. Why is it considered sacred to stop people having fun?Recommend

  • Bakar
    Feb 28, 2011 - 1:35PM

    It is better die with thirst than drinking the blood of your brothers. Kite flying is not less than a murder. If your thread (door) kill someone you are responsible and will be considered murderer in from of Allah. So think again every before promoting it.Recommend

  • abu
    Feb 28, 2011 - 3:52PM

    @ Jeddy you will understand when one of your love one will be sliced with the kite thread. I am sorry to say so but you should choose which one is better. One life is precious than billions of dollars. and you cannot compare basant with cricket. can you tell me one thing how many people have died in cricket and how many have in basant. Recommend

  • Muhammad Zubair
    Feb 28, 2011 - 4:04PM

    Every one listen Every one want to celebrate Basant but Safe Basant and we want only two days for kite flying and in these two days if bikes banned and Rescue teams are fully alerted than its possible. I think if government wants to safe our lives as well as Basant than government allow us Basant with save planning. Everyone wants to celebrate Basant but Safe.Recommend

  • Muhammad Zubair
    Feb 28, 2011 - 4:22PM

    Every one listen Every one want to celebrate Basant but Safe Basant and we want only two days for kite flying and in these two days if bikes banned and Rescue teams are fully alerted than its possible. I think if government wants to safe our lives as well as Basant than government allow us Basant with save planning. Everyone wants to celebrate Basant but Safe. Recommend

  • Nizam
    Feb 28, 2011 - 5:13PM

    @Waqas, @Omer @ Bakar: If you are so afraid of flying a kite, a child’s activity of innocent harmlessness, then never ride a motorbike, never corss the streat, never eat food off the streat — activities which kill thousands on an annual basis, but there is not a single safty provision enforced — and lock yourself inside your houses forever and never come out. Then and only then can the rest of the adult population have the freedom to take responsibility for their own actions, whatever they may be. Bring back a safe Basant and stop these false arguments. Recommend

  • Atif
    Feb 28, 2011 - 5:44PM

    @Omar: I know your example is totally false, and that you are just an anti-Basant fundo because in it you state that 1122 rescuers came “in hardly a minute,” — they never show up in less than a half-hour, we all know.Recommend

  • OMER
    Feb 28, 2011 - 7:28PM

    @nizam . yaar be real motarbike is a necessity and basant is not a necessity,such a lame example u r giving!!!. grow up people every day there r blasts ,people r dying ,poverty , hunger ur country is burning and u r talking about celeberating!!!!Recommend

  • Tamoor Azhar
    Feb 28, 2011 - 10:03PM

    The idea of widely dubbed antennas is a solution of safe basant and Banned a motorbike is not a reasonable solution because bike is a necessity in case of emergency or others.
    @omar i m not agree with u technically of antenna setting . if antenna is not cover ur whole bike it is wasteful effect . The antenna up ur front wheel and down ur back wheel is a safe.Basant is typically event of Lahoris . i like it just one day safe basant if?Recommend

  • Khan
    Mar 1, 2011 - 4:31AM

    People die in stampedes on religious and social festivals.. does that mean we stop them as well??

    Its a festival which should be carried.. these blasts and bombings wont stop soon and we should not prevent ourselves from indulging in such activities.. its a stupid ban!Recommend

  • abu
    Mar 1, 2011 - 12:19PM

    @ of all of those who are in the favor of basant. i wish i could pray to teach you a lesson. but i will only say think if some of your relative (father, brother or son) die like them then you will understand. you people do not know the seriousness of this issue. you people prefer your one day enjoyment over innocent lives shame on you. everyone in this country cannot afford cars. why only in pakistan peolpe celebrate basant like this. people fly kites all over the world but i have not heard any accident. Because they are civilized. You guys need to be educated enough to differentiate between right or wrong. but whom i talking to you are hope less case. i am very sorry to say that but this true. Only Allah can give you Hadaya. And don’t forget a murderer will be in “HELL” foreverrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.Recommend

  • Waqas
    Mar 1, 2011 - 12:27PM

    What is this “safe basant” looks like a promise of USA or a safe route but with land mines with safety marking. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

    No wonder Pakistan has a shortage of brains.

    So week to quit bad habit. Not like true Muslims.Recommend

  • abu
    Mar 1, 2011 - 12:29PM

    To all of those who are in the favor of basant. i wish i could pray to teach you a lesson. but i will only say think if some of your relative (father, brother or son) die like them then you will understand. you people do not know the seriousness of this issue. you people prefer your one day enjoyment over innocent lives shame on you. everyone in this country cannot afford cars. why only in Pakistan peolpe celebrate basant like this. people fly kites all over the world but i have not heard any accident. Because they are civilized. You guys need to be educated enough to differentiate between right or wrong. but whom i talking to you are hope less case. i am very sorry to say that but this true. Only Allah can give you Hadaya. and don’t forget a murderer will be in “hell” foreverrrrrr.Recommend

More in Pakistan