the-south-asian Life & Times                       April-June 2011




 Editor's Note


 Cover Story

 Team India Readies
 for World Cup 2011

 India's Foursome

 Golden Age of Polo
 in India


 Rare & Royal Classics


 Dalip Singh Majithia
 - the First Landing
 in Nepal

 The First Aerial Shots
 of Mt. Everest

 Trivandrum's New


Travel Destination

 Jim's Jungle Reserve


 The Kalasha

 Lakshan Bibi


 Tiger-Sightings in

 Corbett Wildlife
 by Majid Hussain


 Somdev Devvarman

 By O P Dutta





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Lakshan Bibi

– "Yes, I am Kalasha’

By Mark Cherrington

She is a very serious, quietly intense woman who knows exactly what she wants and will not be deterred from getting it. Just as important, she has the experience and global savvy to make it happen. Lakshan Bibi was the first girl from her valley to go to graduate school (she earned a graduate degree from the University of Peshawar) and, improbably, became a commercial airline pilot—the first Kalasha woman ever to follow that path. Now she is a one-woman movement to restore the Kalasha people’s respect in the wider world and their pride in themselves. Kalasha are an endangered community of about 4,000 people in the Chitral Valley located between present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would be King is a story about the land of Kafiristan, in the mountains between present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Kafiristan no longer exists as a country, but the people of Kipling’s story, the Kalasha, still live in that remote region.

The Kalasha have a long and distinctive history, which is both their source of pride and the source of their persecution. They are unlike any of the surrounding peoples. Their physical traits, in some ways, make them appear more European than subcontinental. The Kalasha’s animist religion is based on mountain spirits and a yearly cycle of ceremonies and sacrifices, and it predates Islam by at least 3,000 years. Based in three valleys and numbering between 3,000 and 4,000, the Kalasha are farmers and goatherders, with goats having both spiritual and economic importance. Perhaps the most distinctive element of Kalasha culture is the women’s elaborate headdress, which features a long train called a cupas, made of wool and decorated with rows of cowry shells, beads, buttons, and bells. Along with the cupas, women traditionally wear long black dresses with richly decorated shoulders and hems and topped with piles of bead necklaces.

The Kalasha are surrounded by Islamic cultures, including some of the most radical followers of that religion, and are seen as less than human by their neighbours. In addition to extreme discrimination, they are dealing with unregulated and invasive tourism, illegal logging in their forests, land encroachment, and severe economic marginalization. And the result of that pressure is all too familiar: many Kalasha are abandoning their traditions and their identity, without finding acceptance in the dominant culture.

Lakshan Bibi was one of those Kalasha who had abandoned her traditions and planned on a career in the wider world. She earned a graduate degree from the University of Peshawar and, improbably, became a commercial airline pilot—the first Kalasha woman ever to follow that path (actually, the first girl from her valley to go to graduate school). "I lost my sense of cultural pride once I was in a school," she says. "I did not feel part of the Kalasha community. But after my flying school graduation when I went back to the valleys - my entire community came and greeted me. I could see that these people were destitute; I could see that these people needed me. I realised I should stand with them, represent them."

Mark Cherrington is the editor of Cultural Survival Quarterly

Read the entire article in the print edition




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