ISLAMABAD: Government apathy towards the Kailash community in upper Chitral has left it at the mercy of social pressures and other forces which are forcing this community to abandon its long-held traditions, a government report has found.
Ironically, the report notes that the government and larger public view of the 4,000-strong Kailash community are firmly rooted in terms of their cultural prism — a vanity product to be marketed to wealthy tourists.
This was revealed in the first-of-its-kind report on the Kailash community, “Saga of Survival: The protection, preservation and promotion of constitutional rights of indigenous Kailash people”. The report was launched by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) in Islamabad on Wednesday.
'Old dramas depicted Pakistan's culture'
NCHR Chairman Justice (retired) Ali Nawaz Chowhan, while briefing the media about the report, said that for the first time in the history of Pakistan, the government had conducted a study on the Kailash community — known as the Kailasha Kafirs of Pakistan.
“For decades, the Kailash made headlines only for celebrating their seasonal festivals, as if they had no other life, needs or requirements except merrymaking and dancing,” he said. However, the NHCR had decided to codify customary laws — related to different aspects of Kailashis’ daily life.
The report, though, paints a gloomy picture of the Kailash people who were facing immediate threats such as forced conversions and cajoled marriages to non-Kailsahis. Moreover, many Kailashi cultural practices were fading — a bitter and unfortunate violation of the constitutional rights of the Kailashi people.
“The interaction of NHCR with Kailashis reveals that there are multiple socio-economic factors and pressures, which may be nudging the Kailashas to abandon their culture and religion such as land grabbing, intolerance towards religious minorities in Pakistan, the looming threat of border incursions by the Taliban into Chitral from Afghanistan, limited opportunities of socio-economic progress and poor infrastructure of roads, health and education,” reads the report.
The Kailashi elders, the report noted, had alleged that the grand public gatherings for resolving local disputes — especially over land demarcations — have not been held.
Further, officials of the land revenue department have not met with the locals to settle historical claims on ancestral lands.
“The most distressing grievance of the Kailashi elders was that they were being deprived of their historical claims of ownership of the Silver Oak Forests in Kailash Valleys — granted to them by the Mehtar-e-Chitral centuries ago,” highlights the report.
Justice Chowhan expressed grave concern over this and said that if the Kailash community loses ownership of the forest it would impact them economically.
“Under Pakistan’s Constitution, every citizen has a right to acquire, hold and dispose of property, but unfortunately it has yet to be implemented in the case of the Kailashi people,” he said.
Government data suggests that Chitral is quite a literate region with males boasting a literacy rate of 73 per cent while the females come in at 44 per cent — close to the national average of 69 per cent for males and 45 per cent for females.
But the situation was quite different for the Kailashi people with elders claiming that their community lacked education infrastructure and hence their children were deprived of higher education opportunities. “Kailash children cannot pursue college education in the Chitral city due to poverty and, for a majority of them, it is impossible to bear the hostel (expresses of) accommodation,” the report notes.
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For what little education is imparted to the Kailashi children, the books being taught are contributing to the process of diffusion and erosion of the Kailashi culture.
“The current syllabus of primary education does not contain any material on the Kailash way of life and, therefore, Kailashi children are internalising values which are totally alien to their ground realities,” laments the report.
“Unfortunately, the education department in Kailash are offering the same syllabus offered by the K-P education departments and non-Muslim students are being taught subjects which are meant for Muslim pupils,” Justice Chowhan said.
In the study, Kailashi elders admitted that due to the freedom and security enjoyed by their women, some opt to marry Muslim men —eventually resulting in their conversion.
“However, despite remarkable interfaith harmony of the Kailashi people, the reported divorces of Kailashi women immediately after their conversion and marriage to Muslim men without any social and financial arrangements for their sustenance [was worrying],” reveals the study.
The NCHR recommended that the federal and the provincial governments immediately adopt UNESCO’s prescribed measures to protect the Kailsah culture.
The district administration and provincial government were urged to take immediate notice of the reservations of the Kailashi people with respect to the on-going land settlement process, to mitigate the current sense of neglect and deprivation of Kailashi people.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2017.