2016 - Ongoing
The Kalash tribe has been at the receiving end of various onslaughts by religious extremists for centuries. Today the numbers of the last surviving polytheist tribe in the entire region, have been reduced to only 4000, thus making them one of the smallest religious minorities in the world. Its members on the Afghan side were brutally massacred or forced into conversion at the end of the 19th century and none remains there anymore. Those surviving took refuge in three extremely remote valleys of the Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan bordering its porous frontier with Afghanistan. Despite the increased presence of Pakistani security forces in the region, the Taliban continue to take advantage of the terrain and attack this community especially the cattle herders who move to pastures in the higher slopes during summer as during winters, heavy snows keep this area cutoff from the rest of the world.
Various theories exist about the origins of the Kalash also called Kafir (infidels), and remain a hotly debated subject among historians and anthropologists alike. Some historians think this tribe descends from Greek invading armies of Alexander the Great while others insist that they are indigenous people with Persian/Central Asian or Aryan descent. Their physical traits too with green eyes and light colored hair are quite different from the rest of the country’s population.
The Kalash live in complete harmony with nature as all their requirements are fulfilled by it but illegal logging over decades has taken its toll. Today the state of their environment is highly fragile as flashfloods and landslides have become a regular feature causing loss of life and property every year.
While regularly working in Pakistan since 2007, it was only last winter that I got a chance to visit this region during a two week stay with a Kalash family. Despite centuries of persecution and extreme poverty, young activists from the community continue to struggle for recognition of their basic rights. They were able to get official recognition of their religion only recently as earlier in the official papers column religion was marked as “other”. Even to be counted as citizens in the ongoing census, they had to approach the High Court. They have also been trying for inclusion of their language and culture under UNESCO protection since years but due to lack of interest on behalf of authorities, their case remains in limbo.
Some aid organizations and NGOs are working to help the community in some sectors like health, installing solar panels & small hydro-power generators. The provincial government too has embarked upon an ambitious program of tree plantation in and around the valleys.
Its an ongoing project for which, I plan to make two trips each a month long during different seasons, one in December 2017 and second in summer May/June 2018 during Chillum Joshi festival, with the aim to not only record but to enhance awareness about the plight of their threatened culture by organizing expos/conferences in Pakistan and publications in mainstream international media. I have good contacts amongst Kalash community, aid groups and government officials, whom I aim to bring together by creating a common platform with this project.
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