Saving the Kalash

Over the decades, the culture of the Kalash people of the Chitral Valley has been decimated as a result of action by religious zealots and government indifference. To make matters worse for this tiny, non-Muslim community with ancient beliefs and practices, even those seeking to help them are not being permitted to do so. The latest victim is ‘Bibi Dow’, as she is locally known, who is a lady of British origin called Maureen Lines. She moved to the Kalash Valley in 1981 and took up residence with a local family after becoming fascinated by their culture, lifestyle and the plight they faced as a people deprived of development and opportunities.

Lines, now 75, worked for decades in the area taking courses in healthcare so that she could offer basic aid. She also set up societies to help protect the environment and the people, with whom she developed close relationships. In 2004, Maureen Lines was granted Pakistani nationality and in 2007, she was given the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz for her services. But today, she says local authorities have apparently turned against her. Some weeks ago, the lady was forcibly taken away from her home in the Valley by authorities who said she faced a Taliban threat. She was kept under virtual arrest in Chitral and has now moved to Peshawar.
The security concerns are not entirely invalid. A Greek national, who had also worked for years for the people of Kalash Valley, was kidnapped in the area some months ago and returned only after a long period in the extremists’ captivity. However, depriving such people of what little assistance they have is not a solution. People like Maureen Lines need to be provided protection by the government in areas where they live rather than be relocated. Somehow, the writ of the state has to be strengthened so that people can reside where they please and carry out the admirable humanitarian work — which is the responsibility of the state in the first place — they have chosen to take upon themselves


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