By: Mayur Dana Kalash*
People of Kalash: Historical overview
In the Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan, there are three small valleys inhabited by the Kalasha tribal group: Biriu (Birir), Rukmo (Rambor), and Mumorete (Bumborate). According to the locals and researchers, approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Kalasha live here. Known as one of the world’s oldest living cultures, the Kalashas have a unique culture all their own.
Regarding the origin of the Kalasha community, there are two main theories. Chitral District is divided into two major ethnic groups, the Kho and the Kalash. Kho’s are Sunni Muslims and Ismaili Muslims. Kalash follows their traditions and beliefs. Chitral District was dominated by the Kalash tribe in the 1900s. Recently, the Taliban have threatened the Kalash in Chitral in the past few years, and they have suffered forced conversions, migrations, and climate change.
The Kalasha culture has constantly evolved along with the surrounding world. It is famous and unique as the way of life; their living style is different from others. The traditional female dress includes a black robe and embroidered long cap decorated with seashells, ornaments, and beads. This dress style is still popular among local women despite the availability of a variety of modern clothes. In Kalasha culture, there is no regular prayer like Islam, Christianity, and other religion.
Kalashas being labeled as kafirs
A group of Muslims label the Kalash community as kafirs because they think the Kalashas do not believe in God and worship idols. The Kalash do believe in God, “Khodai” (the Persian word for Allah) or “Dezao,” the creator who is honored everywhere.
Your life is too short; you are going to hell soon. This small community of Kalash tolerates such derogatory remarks in daily life in their vicinity. The first ruler to prioritize the Kalash people was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He took steps for their welfare, thereby reducing the poverty levels in the Kalash valleys to maintain their unique culture after being freed from economic constraints.
Militant Attacks on Kalashas:
In the past few years, about 100 members of the Kalash community have converted to Islam. In August 2012, militants from the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan broke into the Bumburet Valley, killed a shepherd from the Kalash community, and took away 200 goats. Moreover, a video in 2014 showed the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) calling on Sunnis to support their cause against the Kalash.
Forced Conversions of girls: A matter of concern for Kalashas
In 2016, it was reported that Reena, a 14-year-old Kalash girl, converted to Islam and chose to live with a Muslim family. She went back to her parent’s home and complained about being forced to convert. The Muslim neighbors were enraged and attacked Kalash’s homes. Both parties agreed to respect the girl’s wishes in response to the authorities’ intervention. The matter ended when the girl deposed before a magistrate that she had adopted Islam of her own free will, and her family accepted her choice. The Diplomat reported in 2018 that “unwilling conversions and cajoled marriages with non-Kalash are among the immediate threats facing the community.”
After the victory, Amir Abdurrahman (in 1895) (from Azar’s manuscript(p:50) Hindukush conference proceeding 1974), ruler of Afghanistan, ordered a five-day general slaughter. He demolished and burnt all the forts and great towns. People still give this example very proudly. Similarly, one of my friends Khatija Noor*, recently shared her experience about the indirectly forced conversion, “A few days back, I met a man who was very proud to be a relative of Amir Abdur Rehman from Afghanistan, and he was very excited to tell me how Amir Abdur Rehman converted the red Kafirs and killed those who refused. I was not able to sleep the entire night. How could someone be proud of the cruelty he advised me to convert to Islam? And he also questions my education that I do not count as educated if I am still Kalash and threatens me about my after-death life. I was surprised that most of the time, people are concerned about my grave punishment.”
In an interview in February 2022, another Kalash woman Bahar Bano*said, “the indirect force is more dangerous; it kills the culture silently. Our children are going to school to learn more about other religions than Kalash. It’s our fault we never taught our kids about our religion. Kalashis protect Kalash; nobody can do it for us”. Furthermore, a young female student from the Kalasha community told us, “I hide my identity because people dislike Kalashas, especially Muslims.”
Another interview with a senior lady from Birir valley Gul Bahar* shared her own family story of how her daughter and mother were converted to Islam. She explained with heavy heart, “The Muslim neighbor convinced my mother if she becomes Muslim, she may find peace and will never become ill again, my mother was manipulated for the sake of her health, but now after converting to Islam, she is more ill and more depressed, those who converted her never ask about her health.” On further inquiry, I asked her about her daughter she narrated, “I came to know that my daughter is involved in an affair with a Muslim boy and I asked her don’t do this sin, and in response, she shouted at me and asked where our Holy book is? What religion are we following? There is no holy book; there is no daily prayer. I was speechless and had no idea how to control her. Finally, she left me and eloped with the Muslim guy. Such situations make us insecure and worried about our culture”.
The love war or love Jihad destroyed many girls’ lives as many divorced Kalash women in the community have no peace of mind and peaceful shelter on their heads. When they fall in love at the age of 16, they elope with Muslim boys. There is no proper system for their Nikah. Molvi, who converted her, became her witness to Nikah and fixed less amount for Haq Mehr, which allowed them to divorce the girl easily haq mehr According to Islamic teachings in the hadith (sayings of Muhammad), mahr is the amount to be paid by the groom to the bride at the time of marriage, some of which may be delayed according to what is agreed upon by the spouses. The mehr is for her to spend as she wishes.As a result, they get nothing after some years when the love is retrograde, they become separated, and the girl’s life is destroyed, there is no way to return to their culture again, she becomes the burden for her family.
During an interview, a working lady Gul-e- Laila* shared her opinion that “ she is very proud to be Kalashi, but sometimes she hides her identity just not to face ridiculous questions, such as wow, you are so lovely? Why are you not Muslim? Do you look like a Muslim? How amiable are you? But if you become Muslim, you will conquer both worlds, etc. Once she was in her office, she treated an older man nicely; the older man was happy and about to put his hand to her head for a blessing. The moment she told him she was Kalashi, the man took his hand back by saying, okay, thank you for hospitality. She shares that when people come to know we are from Kalash, their ways of treatment simply change. We never received any praising remarks or blessings from older adults like our colleagues.
As a result of conversions to Islam, the PTI MPA, who had worked for a local NGO for about 12 years in Kalash valleys, confirmed in 2019 that the number of Kalash people has decreased, which has only occurred because of conversions. To promote international awareness and support for the Kalash ethnic-religious community, UNESCO and the Government of Pakistan are urged to arrange foreign visits, fund Kalash cultural projects, and provide appropriate development aid aligned with Kalash’s priorities. The Government of Pakistan must allocate a separate seat for the Kalash minority in both the Provincial and National Assemblies.
A way forward:
In the end, I would like to say that by sharing these stories, I do not mean that there are all bad people in the country. Some good people support us and encourage us for our culture, even though they give us all the opportunities we deserve. The article doesn’t mean that all Muslims are bad or Kalashis are too good. There are good and bad people in every society. The education system is the backbone. We must initiate favorable rules to bring interfaith harmony in the community because Kalash culture is the beauty of our country. This ancient culture is like a live museum and an example for the world of how 3000 people survived just behind Afghanistan. So, therefore, we should treat Kalashis as responsible Pakistani citizens and provide them with equal human rights. Civil society, sadly enough, has by and significant been guilty of ignoring the Kalash. None of its reports on the status of minorities issued recently touched on the plight of the Kalash people. This, too, must change.
*Note: The names of the interviewees and Author have been changed to protect their identities.