Pakistan kite ban grounds Lahorites festival plans

Thu Feb 25, 2010 12:36am EST
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By Kamran Haider

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters Life!) - A ban on a decades-old and colorful tradition of kite-flying has riled many Pakistanis, but authorities say the sport has killed people and encourages "immoral" celebrations.

The annual kite-flying festival of Basant, which marks the start of spring in eastern Punjab, involves aerial duels in which participants try to bring down each other's kites using string coated in a sticky paste of ground-up glass or metal.

Women dress in their most brilliant colors for what's become a major festival drawing thousands of celebrants to Lahore as well as multinational companies that rent rooftops for clients and guests.

"It's our culture," said Shoaib Mehmood Naqeebi, a shopkeeper in Lahore. "Our forefathers were celebrating it. It's an event where we share happiness with family and friends. It's fun. It's harmless."

But Pakistan's Supreme Court banned kite-flying nationwide in 2005 in response to an outcry over injuries and deaths caused every year by the glass-coated string. The court added that the ban could be lifted for a limited period if a city requests it.

But last month, the Lahore High Court turned down a request for lifting the ban for the Basant festival.

Every year, Pakistani media report dozens of deaths and injuries caused by the high-flying duels, mainly of children and motorcyclists whose throats are sometimes cut by the string.

For many fans in Punjab, it's an unfair decision, one that costs the city and its merchants money.   Continued...

<p>A Pakistani kite-flyer is silhouetted against a sky filled with kites during Basant, an annual kite-flying festival, in Lahore March 12, 2006. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza</p>