Kite flying: Pakistan
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March 11, 2006
Spring Is Near, but the Traditional Welcoming Kites of Lahore Are Grounded
By SALMAN MASOOD
QUETTA, Pakistan, March 10 — For the first time in memory, no kites will flutter in the Lahore sky for the boisterous spring festival known as Basant, which this year falls on Sunday. They are too dangerous. Kite flying has long been a passion in this part of the world, for adults as well as children. In Pakistan, people even fly kites at night, using powerful searchlights. And every year, Basant transforms the skies over Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province, into a glittery spectacle of hundreds of thousands of kites. But adults and children love to indulge in kite duels, and that is where the danger lies. For duels, the kites are flown on a thin wire or on a thick string coated with glass or chemicals, to better attack opponent's kites.
Stray kites can and do drag their strings unpredictably, tangling around a human neck or limb and cutting it.
The Supreme Court banned kite flying last year, but allowed an exception from Feb. 25 to March 15, a step seen as a nod to the importance of Basant and an attempt to keep kite manufacturers and vendors in business.
During those few weeks, kite fliers and vendors were supposed to promise not to use wire or dangerous string. But kite flying began even before Feb. 25, and a spate of deaths and injuries in the last few weeks persuaded the provincial government to ban the sport on Thursday night, according to government officials.
On Friday, the provincial home secretary, Khusro Pervez, was quoted in state-run media as saying that more than 600 kite fliers had been arrested during the last two weeks for improper string. Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the chief minister of Punjab, said Friday that the government would fully enforce the new ban and violators would face serious penalties.
"Can we ignore the pain of a family whose sole breadwinner has been killed on the road by flying twine?" Mr. Elahi said. "We can't allow a killer sport to continue at any cost." The furor over kite flying gained momentum last month when a 3-year-old girl was killed by a kite string. "She used to call herself a little fairy," said Fozia Liaqut, 42, the mother of the girl, Mahnoor.
On Feb. 19, she was riding in front on a motorbike with her father, mother and two sisters. The bike sped into the path of a coarsened kite string, which must have dipped low with the winds.
"There was so much bleeding that she died before reaching the hospital," Ms. Liaqut said.
Many drivers now bend long rods over their motor bikes, attaching them at the front and back, hoping that any stray kite strings will slide along them and spare their necks.
Since Feb. 25 three more people, including a child, have died, and dozens of people have been injured, according to reports in the Pakistani news media. Public outcry mounted with every report. Earlier this week, dozens of critics of kite flying and members of the aggrieved families held a protest rally in Lahore. Kites were burned and stomped upon. "Stop the deadly game," posters urged. Opposition to Basant and kite flying is not limited to those who worry about the injuries. Islamists also vociferously oppose the festival for what they say are its Hindu origins. Clerics in Lahore had planned to stage a big demonstration after Friday Prayer but dropped the idea after the ban was announced. Proponents of kite flying have questioned why there must be a total ban, urging the government instead to go after those who manufacture illegal string. "The wisdom of stripping a city of a part of its culture, of denying people a part of life that is immensely important to many, needs to be considered with care," Kamila Hayat, a human rights activist, wrote in a recent op-ed column in The News, the country's most widely read daily. For opponents, the wisdom is unquestionable. "People are dying, and we are celebrating!" said Khawaja Izhar, 75, the chairman of Anti-Kite Flying Democratic Front. "Why allow kite flying for even a brief period?"
David Guttenfelder/Associated Press Though Pakistan has banned most flying of kites because some have wires that cause injury, the tradition is alive in Afghanistan, where a competition was held Friday near Kabul.
Though Pakistan has banned most flying of kites because some have wires that cause injury, the tradition is alive in Afghanistan, where a competition was held Friday near Kabul. March 10, 2006
Pakistan Bans Kites After Boy's Throat Cut
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 2:48 p.m. ET
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) -- The death of a 4-year-old boy whose throat was slit by a low-flying kite string coated with glass has prompted authorities to forbid kite-flying in eastern Pakistan.
Shayan Ahmad became the seventh kite-string victim in the nation's cultural capital, Lahore, in the past two weeks, prompting the Punjab provincial government to announce the ban late Thursday.
The edict came as the city prepared for the weekend festival of Basant, which features residents celebrating spring's arrival by flying thousands of colorful kites. Some reinforce the strings with wire or ground glass for dueling other kites and betting on who wins. When strings cross in the congested sky, the winner cuts loose his opponent's kite.
Shayan was sitting on the fuel tank of his father's bike Tuesday as they rode together through the upscale Gulberg neighborhood. The kite string hit Shayan in the throat and the bleeding boy collapsed in his father's lap. He died before they could reach a hospital.
His death riveted the city's attention and became a catalyst for anger over dangerous kites. Outraged citizens staged small protests and burned piles of kites.
I saw my son dying helplessly, said Shayan's father, Mohammed Rizwan. My son's death has ruined my life. The seven victims, including another child, all were fatally injured as they rode on motorcycles.
Kite duels with glass-covered strings feature prominently in the best-selling novel The Kite Runner, which recounts the narrator's childhood in neighboring Afghanistan.
Police have registered a murder case against the unidentified person whose kite killed Shayan but apparently have no leads.
Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the top elected official in Punjab, said after a meeting with Rizwan that kites would be banned for an indefinite period.
A similar ban was ordered by the Lahore High Court two years ago after a series of kite accidents, despite opposition from kite manufacturers who claimed that thousands of people could lose their jobs. The ruling was upheld in late 2005 by the Supreme Court, to little effect.
At least 19 people died and 200 were injured before and during Basant last year. Police are now vowing to enforce the ban strictly. They arrested 74 people Friday, including 22 shop owners, for selling or flying kites after the ban was announced, chief of police operations Amir Zulifquar said.
Police have arrested 1,100 people since March 5 for selling or manufacturing glass-coated or otherwise dangerous kite string, said Khwaja Khalid Farooq, a senior Lahore police superintendent.
Most Lahore residents welcomed the ban, although it will likely take some of the fun and color out of Basant, one of the city's most popular festivals, due to start Saturday night.
People usually crowd streets, parks and roof tops to fly kites, listen to music and party. Hard-line Muslims, however, oppose it as a waste of money and consider it a Hindu festival. Basant means yellow in the Hindi language, and women often wear yellow dresses during the celebrations.
Lahore, a generally liberal Muslim city, was home to many Hindus before Pakistan's partition from India in 1947.
Like many residents, Tufail Ahmad, 35, praised the government for the ban. It should have been done much earlier, he said.
University student Anis Ahmed said authorities were depriving people of a centuries-old sport and should have allowed kites in parks, instead of banning them completely.