Lahore: Residents of Pakistan`s cultural capital will not celebrate `Basant` in the traditional way this spring, as authorities have decided to clamp down on kite-flying, which has always been an intrinsic part of the festival.
`Basant` was a festival that has always attracted a good number of foreigners to Lahore, where it was more popular than major religious festivals like Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha.
Women, in particular, too participated in `Basant` festivities across Pakistan.
Local residents were saddened when the Lahore High Court recently dismissed a petition that challenged the Punjab Prohibition of Kite-Flying Ordinance and sought permission to celebrate `Basant` in the city.
The ordinance was promulgated in 2007 after some people were seriously injured by the glass-coated and metal twine of kites during `Basant`.
Justice Ijaz Chaudhry, who delivered the High Court`s verdict, observed, "The kite-flying ordinance ensures the safety of lives and property of people."
The hardline Jamaat-e-Islami has thrown its weight behind the ban on kite-flying and urged the Punjab government to enforce the High Court`s verdict.
The celebration of `Basant` is a "legacy" of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf`s efforts to promote western culture, claimed JI leader Chaudhry Aslam Salimi. But Lahorites say life isn`t the same without the colours and gaiety of `Basant`. "We used to wait the whole year for this event. My relatives, and especially my friends living in other cities, would come over for the event. Now it is no more and it seems that our city has lost its charm," said Meena Pervez, a student of the University of South Asia, Lahore.
"I was better than my brothers at flying kites. I am very disappointed that there will be no Basant this year," she said, deploring the government`s restrictions.
Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer is in favour of celebrating the festival. "It is very unfortunate that Lahorites are not celebrating Basant. Depriving us from celebrating Basant is tantamount to depriving us of our fundamental rights," he said.
Taseer criticised the PML-N-led government of Punjab province for depriving the people of fun activities on one pretext or on the other. "Such an attitude will make the people sick," he said.
The Governor also vowed to defy the ban. "I am a Lahoria and will certainly celebrate Basant," promised Taseer, a close confidant of Pakistan People`s Party chief and President Asif Ali Zardari.
However, the PML-N, which has strained relations with the Governor, has said it will not allow Taseer to celebrate `Basant`. "He (Taseer) will be handcuffed if he dares to hold an event even in the Governor`s House," PML-N leader Pervez Rashid said. The city`s kite-flying associations have suggested that the government should permit them to fly kites in an open area to avoid any untoward incidents.
However, they also acknowledge that even if a single person is killed by the twine of a kite, the associations` office-bearers will be booked for murder.
"I think the Basant chapter for Lahorites and people in other parts of Pakistan is over," Aslam Jadoon, an office-bearer of a kite-flying association, said.
According to government figures, at least 18 people were killed and 24 others injured by kite twine during 2006-09.
The national power utility suffered losses of Rs 5 billion after electric lines were damaged by twine, officials said.