This year too, the Punjab government has banned basant celebrations, making it a decade since the prohibition was first imposed in 2007. The residents of Punjab, primarily Lahore, then, have been deprived for nearly a decade of what is intrinsic to Punjab’s culture. The recent announcement by Shehbaz Sharif on Twitter is a surprise because it was only in December that the basant committee of the Punjab government had said that basant would be permitted in certain areas. But just over a month after, the Punjab chief minister has called for a “complete ban” on the premise that it is too dangerous a festival to be observed. The argument of basant being a “dangerous” festival is now getting stale. As opposed to the government looking for ways to keep the festival alive and safe, it has instead, again, chosen to take the easiest route of banning, which is becoming a rather customary way of dealing with pretty much anything in Pakistan. Of course, the dangers of using twine made of shredded glass, among other things, cannot be ignored or underestimated and there have been countless incidents of people being injured and even killed by kites, but it defeats logic why, in all these years, some sort of mechanism could not have evolved to make the celebrations safer.
It is largely believed that the festival was banned following pressures from extremist religious groups on celebrating what they consider “un-Islamic”. There was a time when people would travel to Lahore from not only around the country but around the world to celebrate basant. Lahoris had for centuries celebrated the onset of spring regardless of whether they identified themselves as Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. Taking away basant from Lahore is to take away a treasured part of a centuries-old culture. It is most unfortunate how successfully successive governments have snatched away these festivities and reduced the much-awaited basant to archival photos and accounts of the past.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2017.
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