Researcher Doğan Yücel wrote down the reasons the Basant Kite Festival, the ancient festival of Pakistan, was banned for 10 years and allowed again.
Basant Kite Festival, which has continued for centuries, was subjected to an out-of-the-ordinary intervention at the beginning of the 21st century. The celebrations were banned by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2005, as 19 people, most of whom were children, were killed and hundreds were injured in the festivities, giving ‘the festival transformed into a dangerous activity’ as the reason. In 2007, the Punjab provincial government implemented this decision. Basant was celebrated on a limited basis in 2008 and banned completely in 2009.
The causes of death and injury during the celebrations were: Celebratory gunfire taking human lives by stray bullets, use of kite strings made of metal and or covered in glass powder and metal shavings, flying kites with metal wires near power lines and causing electrocution, electrocution near power lines while trying to pick up the fallen kites, electrocution while trying to save the kite-fliers in distress, fatal falls while flying kites or trying to pick up kites that fell from rooftops… Another reason for the ban was the exorbitant repair and maintenance costs of the damage to the power transmission lines caused by short circuits triggered by the contact of metal kite wires.
The last straw in this decision was the death of several children by using sharp and often metal-dusted wires for separating the kites from one another and cutting the strings of other kites during competitions. Increasing public anger forced the government to ban the festival in main cities.
The sudden ban of the city’s biggest festival, which was celebrated for many years, led to concerns about whether this colourful festival would be condemned to oblivion in the recesses of history. The people of Lahore remained hopeful each year about the removal of the ban. Every January and February, whispered street conversations discussed the prospects of the government to consider reviving the festival. At the end of 10 years, it was believed the festival would never come back. Would Basant, like Lohri and Baiskahi, turn into a living memory then? Would Lahore, the ‘cultural capital’ of Pakistan, be deprived of yet another element of its cultural wealth?
Beginning in 2017, people widely expected the ban to be lifted in Pakistan. Finally at the end of 2018, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government in the Punjab province lifted the 10-year ban on Basant with the following statement: “The people of the Punjab will definitely celebrate Basant next February. Meanwhile the government will strictly enforce safety measures, including the ban on the use of metal wires, to protect human lives.”
Celebrating spring by flying kites, Lahore’s biggest festival Basant was started to be celebrated again in 2019. There were always those who fiercely opposed to the old ‘pagan holiday’, but it was hardly taken into account by the majority of the people. Basant is one of the common characteristics of Lahore that unites the society regardless of class, ethnicity, religion or gender.
The sky of Lahore has been seasonally festooned with kites again since the spring of 2019. Syed Zulfiqar Hussain, special organizer of the Basant Festival, said the ban not only deprived the city of a cultural tradition, but also deprived thousands of kite masters of their livelihoods. Therefore, he stated he deemed the revival of the festival a right move.