Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Fear the wrath of God
By Maria Kari
What do women seeking abortions,
homosexuals in the US military, the animistic tribe of the Pakistani
Kalash, and Christmas celebrating, non-vegetarians have in common?
Apparently, God hates them and so we all have to put
up with terrorists, strong winds and the earth splitting wide open.
“Look what the Kalash have done now”
In the wake of November’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake,
a tragedy that left over 390 people dead, Pakistanis have descended into their
favourite game; the blame game.
It’s a familiar, age-old phenomenon. The wrath
of God has been a sound explanation for the cruel, unusual, confusing
and tragic since the inception of religion, and, perhaps, humankind. In the
aftermath of tragedy, our coalition of reasoning has a total breakdown. We
remember we are conquerable, mere mortals and this terrifies us, leaving us
with few answers and many fears.
And so, we turn on each other.
After 9/11 an American
pastor proposed that the terror acts happened because God was angry
with Americans over abortions.
In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane
Katrina, one of five deadliest hurricanes in American history, a
televangelist observed God had let it happen because of America’s descent into
immorality. According to him the natural disaster was proof that the “judgment
of America (had) begun”. The same year, a Buddhist
monk blamed the Indian Ocean earthquake-generated tsunamis on the
Christians. According to the monk, the natural disaster had taken place the day
after Christmas because too many Christians had slaughtered animals and
consumed their meat for the holiday.
Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake in which 316,000
lives were lost, a prominent
rabbi reasoned that God Almighty was obviously sending a message to
the gays in the US military. In 2011 the State of Virginia was struck by an
earthquake, which took no lives but caused $300
million dollars in damage. The same rabbi again pinpointed
homosexuality as the cause. This time he was a tad bit more diplomatic by
specifically asking the “gays not to take it personally (because) this is just
God doing what God does”.
The Blame Game
In Pakistan, we like to rotate the scapegoats of our
Some of the favourite contestants favoured by
Pakistani conspiracy theorists are (in no particular order) the Indians, Amreekis (Americans),
religious fundamentalists, or, as seen in the recent case following this year’s
earthquake, the Kalash ‘kafirs’ infiltrating Pakistan who – despite being
of 3,500 in a country of 182 million – are apparently capable of
bringing forth the scourge of God.
Or, I don’t know, maybe, there was an earthquake
because of an immense build-up of geologic pressure at a subduction zone
between two colliding tectonic plates or whatever.
The average reader may not even know who or what a
After all, they are fairly confined to their tribal
lifestyle centred in the northern valleys of Pakistan. Plus, there’s only like,
3,500 of them and Pakistan’s a fairly populated place so – unless you’ve snuck up
to the mountains for mini-Las Vegas style getaway with booze,
beautiful women, and dancing – chances are you don’t actually know a real life
Kalash outside of Google Images.
The Kalasha are Pakistan’s smallest non-Muslim
community. They reside primarily in the Chitral District of
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa(K-P). They are polytheists and nature is a big part of their
spiritual and daily life. A recent
DNA analysis has confirmed the Kalashas are likely descendants of
Alexander the Great’s soldiers. Their laws are highly unique compared to the
rest of Pakistan, which is predominantly governed by a combination of Shariah
and British common law. Alcohol is not forbidden to them. Divorce is
easy enough for Kalasha women looking to change spouses. They must simply write
a letter to the prospective new spouse offering herself in marriage and ask
that the prospective purchase her at a higher price than the current spouse.
Gender segregation is not a part of the daily life of the Kalash. Neither is
The Kalash are a unique and fascinating people. They
are capable of many things. They make their own wine (known as tara), their
own recreational drugs (nazar, an opiate-based chewing tobacco is a
favourite), they have their own music and even their own set of laws (meaning
they are outside the ambit of Shariah law which controls the rest of us
What the Kalash are not capable of is
singlehandedly inviting the wrath of any particular deity or God. And they
certainly do not have control of the three colliding tectonic plates (Indian,
Eurasian and Arabian) that Pakistan sits on top of and frequently is
Divine Intervention not Divine Retribution
Natural disasters are disruptive. And with this
physical disruption comes the disruption of people’s worldviews. The weak,
vulnerable and scared are the perfect target for theological institutions
looking to win new believers. Combine a vulnerable population with the
double-edged sword that is social media and what you have is a platform
allowing aggressive, fanatic, and downright lunatic religious zealots to
circulate their inflammatory ‘this is God’s wrath’ and ‘they caused this
earthquake because they drink and party’ slogans. With emotions already high
following the loss of
loved ones and destruction of homes and livelihoods, it becomes too
easy for a select few incendiaries to drive the country and its otherwise sane
citizens towards irrational hysteria.
This unrelenting routine is now the unfortunate
norm, which unfolds in Pakistan following a mass-scale tragedy. Instead of
endeavouring to repair broken communities, the rhetoric that arises by the
right-wing, hardliners results in a damaging blowback, which only leaves
already-shattered communities further fragmented and striated.
Instead of a coherent analysis of what happened (an
earthquake), and a reasonable response (rally together as a nation, help one
another out), we’re left with a gang of bullies – ideologically incompetents
hell bent on insisting that the earth’s inevitable shifting process is actually
a frightening display of the powers of an evil, angry God.
The valley of the Kalash was once dominated by
mostly the Kalash and moderate Ismailis. Today, as a result of migration and
forced conversion, the Kalash are few in number compared to a flourishing Sunni
Absolute domination by the majority has left newer
generation of the Kalash slowly
losing a rich culture and unique religion. The handful left behind
face a daily conundrum; convert to Islam or face death, stop production of your
wine or be sent to hell by the will of God, cover your women or face hell fire
for all of eternity.
Yes, there are faults in the earth’s crust. Yes,
weather patterns cause torrential rains and winds.
Yes, this is not Pakistan’s first devastating
earthquake. And, yes, sadly this is likely not her last.
In the meantime, as winter fast approaches with both the
Kalash and Muslims of Chitral currently exposed to the elements, let’s open our
wallets, our hearts, and our homes. And, this time, let’s aim at seeking divine
intervention instead of divine retribution.
No Relief for Kalash in Pakistan’s Valley of Infidels
By: Ayaz Gul
Years of economic pressures and alleged forced conversions to Islam continue to pose a threat to Pakistan’s tiny Kalash minority, the only pagans in the Islamic republic.
Once a large community that for many centuries ruled the scenic northern Pakistani district of Chitral and adjoining border areas of Afghanistan, the Kalash minority tribe has shrunk to around 4,000 people. They speak the Kalasha language and are now confined to three small valleys (Rumbur, Brumbret and Birir), high up in the Hindu Kush mountains.
Critics say successive Pakistani governments have done little to address the extinction threat to the Kalash and have failed to develop their poverty-stricken area to make it accessible for tourism to boost local economy.
Bleak future, festivals still popular
But despite the challenges, celebration mood and excitement remains undeterred at annual Kalash festivals where men and women, wearing traditional colorful dresses, dance and sing to entertain tourists.
Kalasha women mingle easily with male members of the society and are free to move on to new partners should the new lovers, under local customs, be willing to pay the price.
Such an act is condemned as against family honor in many other parts of Pakistan, where families adhere to a strict religious and cultural code.
A community member, Mohammad Ali, says tourism is now the only source of income for the cash-strapped Kalash families. He cites repeated natural disasters in recent years such as rain-triggered floods and earthquakes that have immensely damaged the centuries old traditional livelihood of livestock and agriculture farming.
“There are no other sources of earning for us but tourism. A large number of our young people are jobless and annually some of them also convert to the Muslim faith [in exchange for jobs],” he said.
Ali complained that absence of a proper road to link the valleys to the rest of the country has over the years discouraged local and foreign tourists to show up in large numbers at their annual festivals. It also makes at extremely difficult for the community to transport patients to hospitals in Chitral for treatment in emergency, he says.
Government says little they can do
Pakistani officials acknowledge the “sorry and sad” situation facing the Kalash and also admit nothing is being done to reverse it.
“A lot of people are leaving their culture and their religion because of a lot of immense social pressure and there are forced conversions,” warns Fouzia Saeed, head of the national institute called Lok Virsa, which focuses on promoting and raising awareness about traditional Pakistani cultures.
Activists and researchers note the Kalash settlements are being rapidly encircled by the growing Muslim population because over the years the improvised pagan community has lost control of large parts of their lands to Muslims through sale or mortgage in exchange for paltry loans.
Community leaders dismiss as “incorrect” many writings on the Kalash culture that suggest the tribe believes in twelve gods and goddesses.
They say the tribe believes in “a single, creative God” and is referred to as Dezauc. But the Kalash does not believe in divine books and messengers. That belief makes them “kafirs” or infidels in the eyes of Muslim communities, say critics, which has triggered the race for converting them to Islam.
Rich Muslim neighbors also keep up the social pressure by offering incentives such as good jobs and better marriage prospects for Kalash girls to encourage conversions, says Saeed.
“I think that this whole focus of a lot of religious groups hovering around them, this whole trend should have been stopped. There should have been a national level responsibility. It is not just the government I think that the whole society does not realize that these are our treasures,” she lamented.
Pakistan has seen a rise in Islamist militancy in recent years and extremist attacks have frequently hit parts of the country. Analysts and even officials admit fears of an Islamist backlash and losing support of religious parties in elections play a role in discouraging political leaders from publicly condemning and speaking against the conversion campaign.
Origin still a mystery
The mystery about the history and origin of the Kalash people, or Kalashas, remains unresolved. While some historians say they are indigenous people, others point to the fair skin, light eyes and brown hair of the Kalash, saying the tribe might have descended from the armies of Alexander the Great, which conquered this area in the fourth century B.C.
The belief in purity and impurity is deeply rooted in the Kalash society. Women are considered “impure” during their menstrual cycle and childbirth, and are not allowed to touch anyone. They are forced to spend their days in an isolated building called Bashali, which is off limits to men, and family members deliver food at the doorstep
There are no routine daily prayers, like the Muslim communities in the valleys. The Kalash do pray whenever they initiate any activities like harvesting, plowing, construction and whenever the favor and honor of Dezau is needed,
The Kalash tribe welcomes local and foreign tourists to their four main seasonal festivals that some observers say mirror the old pagan festivals of Europe. The celebrations involve rituals and sacrifices, dances, songs, feasts and alcohol, which the Kalash brew themselves.
The Kalash break all ties to those who convert to Islam and do not accept them back in the society, nor do they resort to violent means to discourage conversions. Although, abandoning Islam in favor of another religion elsewhere in Pakistan could trigger a fatal mob attack.
Activists also complain the rate of conversions is increasing by the year because in the absence of a curriculum for the minority community in government schools, Kalasha students are forced to opt for Islamic studies.
Critics believe urgent legal and administrative actions are required to effectively document and preserve the Kalash culture and bring investment to the area to improve lives of the pagans and protect them against forced conversions.
Provincial authorities say they plan to convene a donors conference on development projects and persevering the Kalash. The regional government says it will require huge funds because officials are unable to allocate public money with their limited budget.