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Of Lawyers' Long March and Basant

BY SAVAIRA KAWISH

Hallelujah! Lahore is finally going to celebrate basant on Sunday, March 15. The Punjab provincial government has lifted the ban and the crazy basant-loving aficionados are jubilant. The sky of Lahore is going to be resplendent with all types and sizes of kites to herald in spring.

Basant is one of the biggest festivals on a Lahori's calendar; a mammoth social occasion promoted during recent years by the nouveaux rich. The festivities will commence on the eve of basant and, officially, culminate the next evening. White paper kites shimmer in the night sky, diving and soaring. Using high-powered searchlights to spot other kites, rivals joust in duels marked by battle cries of “Pecha!” and victory shouts of “bo kata!” Bursts of drums and trumpets mark the cutting of a kite's cord.

The basant festivities always hold bitter-sweet memories. Basant is a two pronged bludgeon of fun. For some it brings enjoyment but for others a lifelong pain due to the casualties caused by kite string cutting somebody’s (usually a child) throat, electrocuting someone due to vicinity to overhead electric wires or falling from roof tops, and aerial firing. The celebratory gunshots continue through the night as rivals down each other's kites. The harmful outcomes are permanent and the loss is irreparable. The victims are always the poor, innocent people, especially children; the rich never pass through this menace of sheer slaughter.

This year’s basant celebration coincides with the lawyers, civil society activists, political parties and the common people marching towards Lahore for their onward march to Islamabad for restoring the independence of the judiciary. It is a march for a transformation in the status quo and must succeed. For the first time in sixty years the conscience of the people has been pricked and they are rallying behind the legal fraternity for a cause, a change that promises a better collective future.

The folly of the Punjab government to give a green signal for basant celebration at such a time baffles the mind. It is a recipe for disaster, an open opportunity for the so-called “extremists” to take advantage of the situation. The law enforcement agencies are all focused on the Long March and there would be no adequate security for the basant revelers. The police cannot be redeployed to the basant venues because “terrorists could infiltrate the long march and trigger violence” as stated by the Interior Ministry.

A major political party was blamed for the March 3 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. If, God forbid, any such terrorist activity takes place, the political parties and the lawyers would be held responsible. Such an unfortunate situation would jeopardize the noble mission for bringing about changes in the constitutional structure, political culture and social ethos. Pakistan will not be able to prosper as a moderate, democratic polity in the comity of nations without these changes.

The provincial government should have realized that Long March and basant just do not mix; both are like chalk and cheese. Leaving the ban imposed by the Supreme Court since the last couple of years intact would not have prolonged winter season in Lahore. Spring is a natural phenomena and can, and has been, and will continue to come and go at its prescribed time without some sort of pagan-like festival known as basant to herald it in!
 

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