Bibi Dow of Kalash forced to leave home

Published: November 15, 2012
Maureen Lines. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Maureen Lines. PHOTO: EXPRESS


The locals call her Bibi Dow – because it is easy to pronounce – but for the 75-year-old social worker Maureen Lines, life has been anything but for the past few years.

On the pretext of security, police personnel took Lines away from her home, in Birir village of Kalash Valley, and whisked her to a rundown Governor cottage in Chitral town. The Taliban are after her, she was told.

“I was taken in custodial arrest, and even the doors of the place where I was kept were bolted,” said a distressed Lines speaking to The Express Tribune in Peshawar, where she is now forced to live.

“I have been separated from my life; it is shocking, and a violation of human rights,” she added, talking about security restrictions placed on her by local authorities.

Who is Maureen Lines?

Granted a Pakistani citizenship in 2004, the 75-year-old social worker is known as the ‘barefoot doctor’ for scurrying through Kalash to treat the locals of their ailments. Lines has dedicated her life to improving the welfare of the Kalash community since she moved to Pakistan in 1980.

She was born in the UK and lived the world over before settling down with a local Kalash family. She subsequently set up the Kalash Environmental Protection Society (KEPS) in 1993. “In 1979, I was planning a trip across Africa and then came across a documentary on the interesting Kalash people of Chitral,” she said.

The documentary made her change her plans, and she travelled through Egypt and Sudan, flew to Bahrain and then sailed to Karachi onboard P&O ship, Dawaka. Lines then took a train to Rawalpindi and boarded a bus to Peshawar from there.

The city instantly arrested her imagination. “It had an ambience, atmosphere and without heavy traffic; the old city was just fabulous with its narrow alleys, bazaars and tea shops,” she reminisced.

Then she boarded a bus to Landi Kotal in Khyber Agency. On-board were tribal women who were mesmerised by a Caucasian amongst them. “They were fascinated with me and one of them touched my face and lifted her veil, followed by the rest,” she said.

Second time’s a charm

Lines came back again in 1981, after saving money from interior decoration and painting in England, and was given a two-month permit by then-deputy commissioner of Chitral, Shakil Durrani.

While in Birir village, she was invited to by a local woman, Taqdeera, to stay at her home. An incident during that stay, however, altered her life forever.

“I heard a cry for help, and ran to the scene to discover a young girl bleeding from her head after a tree branch struck her head,” Lines said.

She had basic first-aid training and could not treat the girl but she washed the wound, and the girl luckily recovered.

Lines then went to New York and received two years of training as an emergency medical technician and returned to Kalash Valley. “I had four puppies, a rucksack of medicines, a plastic bag and went door to door, village to village, treating sick people.”

 Social work

After founding KEPS, Lines set up a British charity, the Hindukush Conservation Association, in 1995 which pays for the infrastructure, workers’ salaries and the medical programme. At present, Lines is building a high school in Birir village.

She was awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz in 2007 for her work on improving the welfare of the Kalash community. She has also authored four books on northwestern Pakistan and the Kalash people.

Lines said the situation of the Kalash people has improved over the years but adds that plunging numbers of tourists following 9/11 has affected them badly.

“They have two sources of income: tourism and forestry; the former has dropped, while trees are mercilessly chopped down by the timber mafia,” she said.

She also complained bitterly about the local authorities who have been regularly forcing her to stop her work under various pretexts for some years.

“They are big shots who have a problem with me and do not want me to be there,” she said.

Lines said she believes the Kalash people are her family, and it pains her to be away from them.

“But [the authorities] laugh when I call the people my family; they treat it as a joke,” she added.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Ali
    Nov 15, 2012 - 10:26AM

    How sad are we as a nation? We have a extraordinary woman here who left everything behind to help those who need help. And what do we do? We lock her up on the pretense of security? If we can give VVIP’s extra security, why can’t we grant security to someone who came, made this her new home and dedicated her entire life for those who need it….just very very very sad…


  • Observer
    Nov 15, 2012 - 10:38AM

    This nation does not deserve such great people!


  • Ehsan karim
    Nov 15, 2012 - 11:04AM

    Mureen Lines you are an angel.


  • Feedom Seeker
    Nov 15, 2012 - 12:20PM

    Once a lively and healthy nation has turned to a monster. I hope to see Pakistan as 30 years before Zia’s crimes against Pakistanis.


  • Mist
    Nov 15, 2012 - 12:44PM

    Fantastic story


  • Shamy
    Nov 15, 2012 - 2:40PM

    “But [the authorities] laugh when I call the people my family; they treat it as a joke,” she added. —- how disgusting are we… ?


  • sam
    Nov 15, 2012 - 3:16PM

    I salute you!


  • Nov 15, 2012 - 3:22PM



  • Manzoor
    Nov 15, 2012 - 5:15PM

    We are obliged to you for your services from the core of our hearts and we consider you as our family member.Your services and your fight for the rights of the most disadvantaged people who are struggling for their survival,will always be remembered.


  • afzaalkhan
    Nov 15, 2012 - 8:57PM

    @Feedom Seeker

    Do you even live in Pakistan? what crimes? The same lively and healthy nation that saw 1971? Bengali-urdu clash? Urdu-sindhi and others long before zia? The so called selective amnesia of liberals. From the inception till 1977, liberals ruled pak and honey and milk flowed, get a life


  • Nov 15, 2012 - 10:05PM

    Thanks Herald Tribune- i Know her personally. Met Her many Times, she did a Lot for Kalash, Since the abduction of a Greek Ngo, securities firms do not take any Chances specially on People associated with OUT SIDE NGO-s(PERIOD) ,I think it is the right Decision,in this Old age if Something happens to her it will bring US a bad name Internationally-GOVT has already Given Her a Medal for her services, Peshawar Islamabad is Better for Her,to stay and manage her Services,Govt should give to HER a Govt Quarter in Islamabad to live with out making it PUBLIC-,FOR SURE, these are a few Related to Kalash Issues that i Care about a LOT-Lack Of Answering of Mail In Pakistani GOVT has deep After effects on Our Issues for Kalash-and SHE does help a LOT taking Children to Hospotals, Collaborating with High Commissions of Different Common wealth Countries, Her Contribution is GREAT, But It Is Time for her to Keep a Low KEY Profile this way is BETTER-For ALL PARTIES,


  • Kamal A Jamil
    Nov 17, 2012 - 8:53AM

    Though the services of Ms, Moureen are appreciated but the local people of Kalash valley “Birir” have also lot of reservations on her appraoch. She had not covered the whole Birir valley rather her services were only to less than 20 %. Ms. Moureen had almost always have been critic for the activities of other NGOs and always try her best to create problems for organizations working in that valley that’s why nowadays the scenario has also changed and most of the inhabitants of this valleys also like Ms.Moureen be ousted.


  • israr
    Nov 17, 2012 - 4:17PM

    It is true this lady has worked day and night to give relief to poor kalash people. Her work should be acknowledged. I appreciate manzoor for his effort to highlight her problem. She must be allowed to work there


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