NGOs say Community Halls to Destroy Kalash Culture

PESHAWAR: Different non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have demanded immediate halt to the construction of community halls in the Kalash valleys in Chitral as they felt it would harm the local culture.

Kalash Environmental Protection Society (KEPS), Frontier Heritage Trust (FHT), Institute of Architects of Pakistan (IAP), Civic Awareness Promotion Society (CAPS), Zareef Khan Foundation (ZKF) and Sarhad Conservation Network (SCN) in a joint statement urged the government to immediately stop the construction of new community centres in the three valleys inhabited by the minority Kalash community as the Kalash people resented the decision and considered it harmful for their culture.

According to the SCN press release, the new secretary for minorities, Khyber Pakhtun-khwa, had sanctioned three community halls for women, one for each of the three Kalash valleys. But the local community in Rumbur, Birir and Bamburet opposed the centres. In Balanguru, they already have two Jestakhans (community centres) damaged by certain elements four or five years ago.

“In Birir, the one built by Chitral Area Development Programme is, like all others, a concrete monstrosity which has iron bars and no glass at the windows and is used by animals,” the statement argued.

The KEPS statement said, “It is a pointless venture as the people do not need community halls. They had their traditional Jestakhans for meetings. The women who did the needlework were those often looking after small children while older women were working in the fields. With household chores, when were they going to have time for community hall to do needlework? Women have only time for these activities in the winter. And they do it in comfort of their own homes. The ones built earlier are lying vacant. One eventually was used as a school in Rumbur, also one in Bamburet. The one in Birir was first used as a godown. Now it stands derelict.”

The statement added, “The contractor in Birir was also the one who built the concrete wall around the autumn dancing ground destroying its cultural value. The C&W Department is involved in the current project. If not stopped, the valleys would soon be littered with anaesthetic Jestakhans and Bashali houses and one-room schools,” it added.

It stressed that Kalash Advisory Board was urgently needed to make decisions for development in the Kalash valleys.

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