In a country where terrorist groups can operate freely without government action, kite-flying is considered a bridge too far. As spring approaches, for the sixth year in a row, Basant will not be celebrated in Pakistan. The original ban, imposed by the then nazim of Lahore, was only meant to last for three months but the cause was then taken up by the Supreme Court. Even then, kite-flying was only banned till the government started regulating the industry to minimise deaths associated with the activity. The ban was lifted for 15 days in 2006, but further deaths made that the last Basant to be officially celebrated in the country. Chances of a revival are slim to non-existent in the near future.
The ban on kite-flying is symptomatic of a government that prefers quick, superficial fixes. When it is unable to prevent terrorist attacks, the government bans cell phone services despite the extreme inconvenience it causes to the people. In the case of kite-flying, all that is needed is to ban the use of chemically — or metallically — strengthened strings and then everybody can go back to celebrating Basant. There will always be those who break the rules but this is true of every activity. Just because some people drive dangerously or under the influence of banned substances does not mean that the government should ban cars.
Basant is not just a tradition that is a part of our history, it is also an engine of economic activity. Lahore, during Basant season, used to become a tourist haven with visitors from all over the world visiting the city. The ban has cost the city billions of rupees, money we did not have to lose had the courts shown more common sense and the government carried out its regulatory duties. On top of this, those who manufactured and sold kites were suddenly told that they were no longer allowed to earn a living. The obvious solution is to deal with those who use unsafe kites rather than imposing a blanket ban on kite-flying. Basant should be brought back this year to bring some joy to our beleaguered lives.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2013.