MY childhood dream of visiting the Kalash valleys finally came true when I visited the area last week. The beauty, innocence, hospitality and uniqueness of the Kalash people have no parallel. Unfortunately, I also observed how the local Muslims belittle and discriminate against them on the basis of their faith. Due to this the Kalasha feel threatened; most have converted to Islam (willingly or unwillingly) and there are now only about 4,500 Kalasha left.
While I appreciate efforts to enlighten people on Islam and invite them to convert, I strongly condemn forced attempts to do so. For example, the Kalasha run a museum and school in Bhamboret, which some time ago was attacked by local Taliban to destroy their precious history and intimidate them. And while tourists visit the valleys to witness the rich Kalash culture, most of the local vendors are Muslims. Muslims in nearby towns have purchased or illegally acquired land and have a monopoly on the local tourism industry. The Muslim community directly benefits from visiting tourists, while the Kalasha (the people tourists actually come to visit) only receive a paltry fraction of this revenue.
The Kalasha are a very rich and ancient civilization that must be saved, but the government has so far ignored their well being. These people are fighting for their survival. If the present trend continues, their precious culture will perish and we will only be able to read about them in books.
The government, as well as the whole nation, must fulfill its responsibilities to the Kalasha. To this end, all tourists who visit the Kalash valleys should not visit through a third party but, rather, should go directly to the Kalasha, visit their museum, treat them with respect and try to learn about their vibrant culture and traditions.
Muhammad Adnan Rafique
Published in Dawn, on Sept 5th 2017.