JUNE 2001- Contents
Travel & Adventure
the-south-asian.com June 2001
Page 2 of 6
The Kalasha of Pakistan (cntd)
Problems of Minority Development and Environmental Management
By Peter Parkes
Kalasha History and Development
After the legendary conquest of Kalasha kingdoms in southern Chitral around the sixteenth century, conversions to Islam reduced the indigenous non-Muslim population to its present refuge of three valleys (Rumbur, Bomboret, and Birir). Non-Muslim Kalasha were then enserfed, while each community was subject to heavy tributary taxes in subsistence goods and arduous labour services, levied through a locally appointed 'headman'. This oppressive regime of serfdom and tributary extraction persisted until the early 1950s, still bitterly recalled by elder Kalasha as 'the time when the rulers were eating the very skin off our backs'.
Enfranchisement from feudal servitude was widely welcomed, but it was accompanied by the onset of forced conversions to Islam and the widescale appropriation of Kalasha property by outsiders. With the protective authority of the Chitrali rulers in eclipse, zealous mullahs then organized proselytizing raids into the valleys, from whose forced conversions the majority of Muslim Kalasha now derive. Debts owed to nearby storekeepers for loans of grain, extended at exorbitant rates of interest, also led to the wide-scale mortgage or sale of walnut trees and some plots of land to outsiders.
But from the early 1970s, these adversities began to be ameliorated through central government action, aware of the growing visibility and value of the Kalasha for foreign tourism. Taxes were then lifted, medical dispensaries and primary schools founded, and rough jeep-roads were ordered to be constructed into all three valleys. Development aid was also initiated through the personal intervention of president Z.A. Bhutto, who twice visited Kalasha by helicopter in the early 1970s, distributing welfare donations and inaugurating several minor projects.
Development intervention further escalated under Zia ul Haq's military regime during the 1980s. Provincial and district level funding for local community projects - mainly irrigation channels, bridges, and flood-protection walls - was administered through Kalasha representatives on the Chitral District and Union Councils, which became open to local election from 1982. In response to calls to safeguard Kalasha from the zealous excesses of his Islamization policy, Zia also arranged for their electoral enrollment within a national minority constituency of non-Muslims, divorcing them from normal participation in district political elections. Although this crippled the local bargaining power of Kalasha leaders, the Ministry of Minority Affairs otherwise proved a cornucopia of development funding, amounting to some 10 million Rupees by the end of the 1980s.
The major development intervention of this period was the arrival of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in Chitral in 1983. This chose to establish several 'showcase' minority projects in the now easily accessible and well-visited Kalasha valleys. As part of its strategy for encouraging the formation of cooperative Village Organizations, Kalasha were invited to propose 'Productive Physical Infrastructures' that would demonstrably enhance income generation. By 1990 over 20 Kalasha Village Organizations had been formed, almost all for the construction of new irrigation channels, amounting to a total donation of over 4 million Rupees. A second phase of intervention (initiated in 1987) was intended to galvanize such groups into a more ambitious programme of social engineering and entrepreneurial training, with emphasis on, for example, instilling 'gender equitability' and 'integrated resource management' with reference to local cultural institutions and knowledge. Among Kalasha, this has included the foundation of several Women's Organizations for the market gardening of vegetables and tree-planting or 'social forestry', as well as technical assistance and credit supplied for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the introduction of new high-yielding varieties of wheat and maize, and various innovations of livestock breeding or pastoral range management.
While the initial productive projects were enthusiastically embraced by Kalasha, these latter 'environmentalist' innovations have as yet mainly been limited to a small coterie of 'model farmers.’ I shall suggest that these - and related environmentalist projects currently operating in their valleys - sometimes misapply remedies, more appropriate to other farming communities of the Hindu Kush, to the peculiar cultural economy of the Kalasha. Yet outside ignorance of Kalasha environmental knowledge is also a product of distorted conditions of communication operating from within Kalasha communities.
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