Why won’t NADRA recognise the Kalasha?

Published: May 10, 2012

The Kalasha women wear a traditional outfit and neck beads as a hallmark of their Kalasha religion and they don’t cover their faces. PHOTO: SIKANDAR

Did you know that there is a pre-historic animist religion called Kalasha –  a religion still practised and cherished by the Kalasha people of the Hindu Kush valley?

Are you also aware that the Kalasha people don’t even have an option to choose their religion in the ‘religion box’ endorsed by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA)?

Nadra came under scrutiny when it refused to rectify typographical errors it had made of a Christian MPA Rana Mahmood that identified him as a Muslim on his national identity card.

The issue drew a considerable amount of attention from both the media and human rights activists, who criticised Nadra for various violations of fundamental rights. Following the criticism, Nadra issued an official statement apologising for the error made. The statement reads:

[A] High level inquiry was ordered by the authority to investigate the matter as to why such inconvenience was caused to our honourable MPA… [I]t was revealed that a Nadra data entry operator had mistakenly put his religion down as Islam because of his Muslim-sounding name.

The Kalasha community has been a victim of this human rights contravention by Nadra since the day the ‘religion box’ was introduced by General Ziaul Haq in the 1980s and the ‘Kalasha religion’ was not included in the list of religions.

An old Kalasha elder confides that,

We didn’t have any option to have our religion on our identity cards like everyone else, even though our religion is the oldest of all, so we brought the matter to the attention of MP Bhandara (MNA elect for minorities), when he visited the Kalasha Valleys. He made an effort to convince the authorities to include the Kalasha religion in the list of religions but they didn’t register Kalasha instead they included ‘others’ in the list of religion as an option.

When the computerised national identity cards (CNIC) were introduced, the Kalasha religion appeared in the list of religions for a short while before Nadra removed it again. (One is led to ask who exactly instigated this removal and why?)

The Kalasha tribe has repeatedly protested, demanding recognition for their religion – an acknowledgement which is their constitutional right to have but the authorities have shown no interest, constantly ignoring their plea to the point of even sidelining a recommendation from the Ministry of Minorities Affairs to include the Kalasha religion in the list of religions.

The outcome of this ignorance and negligence, due omission, is that it paves a way for systematic discrimination.

For example, in Chitral, Nadra officials have repeatedly insisted that the Kalasha women cover their dresses with a scarf while taking photos for their national ID cards. The Kalasha women wear a traditional outfit and neck beads as a hallmark of their Kalasha religion and they don’t cover their faces.

On the one hand, the Kalasha people are deprived of their rights to maintain their identity, culture, religion and language as per the constitution, while on the other hand the tourism ministry exploits them, making every effort to feature the Kalasha women in posters and commercial marketing, using them as advertising assets as the ‘Mystery of the Kalash’ on their brochures and billboards.

And yet they have no right to be acknowledged or accepted as a separate religion.

With all this flamboyant advertising, where is the sense in asking them to cover their traditional neck beads with a scarf in the ID card profile photo?

Can Nadra’s motives be questioned in this case?

Does it mean that Nadra is on a mission to assimilate every diverse cultural aspect of the people of Pakistan?

Nadra seems to have claimed the right to decide people’s faith, depriving Pakistani citizens from acknowledging their respective faiths; tarnishing their rich cultural and religious heritage. In fact, the whole idea of declaring religion in official documents is absurd, since religion is regarded as a personal matter.

Having to declare religion for official use should be treated as a violation of our basic primary rights.  It may lead to discrimination in official as well as daily affairs.

If, however, declaration of your religious belief is still a prerequisite, then it is high time Nadra revises its discriminatory policy towards other religions and either amends the list it has at the moment to does away with it altogether.

They have to accept the fact that Kalasha is a separate religion, and they have to concede to the religious diversity in Pakistan so that every Pakistani, whether Muslim or non-Muslim can be confident that they are equal before the law regardless of their religious or spiritual beliefs.

The mistreatment of the Kalasha people in Pakistan has been very well observed, noticed and pointed out by Ms Nosheen Abbas, a BBC journalist, who calls to attention a very important fact about the complex situation they face. She says,

Pakistanis would view Kalash culture with disapproval but nevertheless many, mostly men, still flock to the valleys from around the country to experience the liberation the festival offers.
The Kalash use the blanket term “Punjabi” for the Pakistani men who suddenly show up in the village staring at women, trying to “chat them up”, and making many feel uncomfortable. They do not consider themselves Pakistani. In fact, they call anybody from elsewhere in the country “Pakistani” – as if that term would not cover themselves as well.

The Kalasha tribe, like every other minority group, deserves what the constitution provides for them; the basic right of recognition and acknowledgement.

It’s not much to ask for.

PHOTOS: FILE / EXPRESS

Read more by Sikandar here, or follow him on Twitter @seekndare

Sikandar Khan

Sikandar Khan Kalasha

A member of the Kalasha community and a student of Economics at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. He tweets @seekndare

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Muhammad Bilal

    They’re not muslims so they suffer in our country.The kalasha’s numbers are small,that’s why they can’t lobby or hold regular protest rallies like other religious minorities are able to.There is a growing campaign that has been going on for the last decade of evangelical maulvis harassing the kalasha and using different tactics to make them change their religion.We will lose all diversity in our society if we keep on forcing others to conform to one religion.The kalasha have a unique way of life and we should learn to accept them as they are,not try and force them to become muslims.Recommend

  • Ammar

    Kalash valley is an asset and is the only unspoiled cultural valley left in Pakistan. I heard Kalash valley is protected by some federal order but It would be nice if govt including NADRA recognize the people, culture and religion of Kalash valley and take concrete steps to make it a tourist hub of Pakistan.
    Seriously Kalash can be an international tourist spot , all it needs is a good will from the government.Recommend

  • Khan

    Can some one please clarity what is the purpose and need of putting religious stamp on everything?
    Why do we have this section in NIC or Passport? Apart from using it for personal identification these cards has no other purpose and shouldn’t be used for religious purposes Its not that we became Muslims because Dictator Zia imposed his views upon us.
    Abolish this system of discrimination for the sake of future generations Please.Recommend

  • A Khan

    Makes sense. I agree.Recommend

  • manish

    IT’S VERY GOOD THAT THE YOUTH OF PAKISTAN IS COMING TO REALISE THAT A 100% ISLAMIC PAKISTAN MAY NOT BE THE BEST PAKISTAN FOR THEM.

    since the youth is viewing other religious belief also as something that should be given due, pakistan does have a bright future.

    also, a 100% hindu india would be a nation full of castes, a 100% islamic pakistan would be full of sects and ethnicities.

    it’s better to preserve whatever piece of fragile diversity you have, because going by the current trend against sufis, not many muslims are going to visit sufi shrines and maybe with the current rate of rampant wahabism you may come to look down upon even these maousoleums, so all you will be left with will be the gandhar civilization, indus civilization, merhgarh settlements in balochistan, and various other pre-islamic cultures.

    it’s strange that a islamic nations greatest hallmarks are from the pre-islamic stage!!!!!!!!!
    perhaps, we can’t run away from our past.

    PS: just not let your mullahs get aware of these people, preserve them, and you may really come to discover an undercurrent of humanity in all the religions. even in their primitive religion.Recommend

  • http://- Abid P Khan

    Stop this McDonaldization of the country.
    .
    Let people be what they are.
    .
    Let a thousand flowers bloom.
    Recommend

  • Mughal

    Thats a serious problem.. I don’t think the current government or authorities would pay any serious attention to this matter, to them, this wouldn’t even be a problem. People of Kalash should come to Islamabad once strongly, so that their matter could come at least in the eyes of Chief Justice. If Shemales can have their gender recognized then Kalash people can get their problems solved too. The thing is there should be a group keeping the matter alive till the end. I have been to Kalash, the place is simply amazing, the mountains, their houses and a very rich and unique culture they have is simply awesome. People are so beautiful, the kids, the women, their very hard working and strong men. But I believe, with all these years passed Kalash has been neglected in development and Infrastructure not only by the authorities but by their own people as well. A strong media presence there to raise all such issues need to have a good infrastructure, that is unfortunately not there. With all this ‘new provinces’ spring on, I would like to see Chitralis having a separate province, because their issues are different, their culture is different and they must get a chance to develop and administer their area themselves.. Recommend

  • Uzair

    I support the inclusion of the religion column, and also demand that there should be columns for political affiliation, caste, height, eye color, and preferred music genre. After all they identify a person as much as religion, so they must be noted down.Recommend

  • Ashar

    what is the difference if religion column have an entry “others”, and does it affect thier respective religion or tend to change it or they are under the threat of alleged forced conversion as some of our friends still believe for the girls who embraced Islam.

    Instead of fueling the fire, their basic needs should have been pointed out and Government should be asked to recognise them. Do we have a seat of Kalasha in our universities. Do we provide them basic utilities, health services and access to high level education?

    Controversies can no longer prevail and are in no way commendable.Recommend

  • Sardar Muhammad Abbas

    I want that the Supreme court must take a sue moto notice of this situation.Recommend

  • Mo/CA

    what is more confusing is the need of a religon box in a country that is 97% muslim. That means every 9.7th person in the country is a muslim on average. I do understand the need of a quota system for the minorities, but there can be a separate system for that, or we can still have the rligon question in the nadra files but not depicted on CNIC or the passports. Recommend

  • narayana murthy

    @Ammar who writes “I heard Kalash valley is protected by some federal order but It would be nice if govt including NADRA recognize the people, culture and religion of Kalash valley and take concrete steps to make it a tourist hub of Pakistan.”

    I can’t believe the way some Pakistanis look down upon others.

    Nice?! Nice?! Really, so they should be given these privileges because it could be nice for Mrs. Ammar and not because it is the right thing to do and it is their birth right.

    No wonder, Pakistan is where it is today.Recommend

  • Jalil

    The Kalasha people have even no access to basic necessities of life including clean drinking water, education, freedom of expression, basic health facilities and the like. It has been learned that some radical mullahs in the Kalasha belt are busy in forced conversion of these people to Islam. Pathetic indeed.Recommend

  • http://www.kabacreations.com Vishnu Dutta

    @Sardar Muhammad Abbas:

    It will. all kalasha people have to do is to travel with two bottles of alcohol with them.Recommend

  • Pakistani

    Why is there a religion box in the first place?

    It’s ridiculous that there are discriminatory policies in Pakistan lobbied by the far-right, and the same people cry when France bans the Burka or when Canada bans the veil during a citizenship oath.

    The Kalasha people should be allowed to express themselves and have the same rights like every other Pakistani.

    It’s big time for affirmative action in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    Not many left for NADRA id.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    It would be so much easier to simply remove the religion box, and acknowledge that a citizen’s personal religious beliefs are not for the state to regulate.

    But we’d have to defy traditions to start doing things that are simple, fair and not absolutely bonkers..Recommend

  • SM

    NADRA must recognize the Kalaasha religion. It is their right as Pakistani citizens. Recommend

  • HAZARA TIGERS

    Dear Sikandar Khan Kalasha,

    You are crying for the box to be introduced for Kalasha community in the NADRA Form for acquiring Identity Card. Your community is too much lucky that they live in particular place where almost all people belong to Kalasha Community. if u lived in cities just Karachi, Quetta etc, you would have been killed like ethnic Hazaras, Christian and other minorities.

    Dear Sikandar Khan, It is a country of only one religion whose name is Deobandi religion whose members only know to impose their ideology by guns, rockets, suicide bombers etc.

    Pray for future of minorities including Kalasha Community in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    @Hazara Tiger,
    Hakuna matata yar In pakistan u guys are not as bad as minorities in Iran….Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    Ali Tanoli,

    It’s not a competition on who treats the minorities worst. And just because there might be (arguably) a few countries that treat their minorities worse than Pakistan, doesn’t absolve Pakistan from its own sins.Recommend

  • Abid P Khan

    @Ali Tanoli:

    “@Hazara Tiger,
    ……… In pakistan u guys are not as bad as minorities in Iran….”

    By any chance, are you really implying that Hazara guys must be treated much worse, to get even?Recommend

  • alicia

    Kalash was always on my to visit list. I really think the government should do more to help these people.
    @Ali Tanoli

    I always hate when people bring up some injustice happening in another country and compare it to Pakistan. Instead of correcting the wrong we try to justify it.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    @aicia,
    Why u guys or E,T dont say or censor when peoples use term as Deobandi what u guys think
    is not it wrong to use and when we say shia or name there backer then i think its justiry….Recommend

  • Fayaz Dar

    The Kailash culture is dying fast, a very sad affair. Most of them are being converted to Islam by mullas to reserve a berth in heaven for himself. It must be stopped at any cost and let them preserve their own culture and language. All the religions and cultures have right to exist.Recommend

  • Ashraf

    We must respect each and every citizen of Pakistan, no matter what his/her religion is. Kalasha is and ancient religion which is practiced in Kalash Valley. NADRA must include their religion in their database.Recommend

  • http://13 m naveed sui
  • Nabaig Sharakat KalashAdvocate

    Not only NADRA in every level kalasha are exploited/discriminated positively discrimination is discrimination whether it is negative or positive,though it is clearly mentioned in the constitution of the country,basic and fundamental rights are defined.kalash shall be entered in the religion block of the NIC or PASPORT as it is written in the form of the Universities, rest of the minorities are given value,kalash and their traditions and culture is only used collection money for luxurious living,because of no voice of the kalash in the state institutions,mean in the national and provincial Assemblies.Web don’t have our own MNA and MPA,the mpa and mans who are considered minority mna and mpa are not defending the rights of the kalash.Each and every year budged is passed and i am asking where the budged is being used 99 percent is used for the minority of minority.Never visited kalash raver raised questions in the parliaments provincial and national.Visiting kalash only when the kalash celebrating their religious ceremonies juest make the kalash disturb,only photo sessions nothing else.Recommend

  • Nabaig Sharakat Kalash Advocate

    Not only NADRA in every level kalasha are exploited/discriminated positively discrimination is discrimination whether it is negative or positive,though it is clearly mentioned in the constitution of the country,basic and fundamental rights are defined.kalash shall be entered in the religion block of the NIC or PASS PORT as it is written in the form of the Universities, rest of the minorities are given value,kalash and their traditions and culture is only used collection money for luxurious living,because of no voice of the kalash in the state institutions,mean in the national and provincial Assemblies.Web don’t have our own MNA and MPA,the mpa and mans who are considered minority mna and mpa are not defending the rights of the kalash.Each and every year budged is passed and i am asking where the budged is being used 99 percent is used for the minority of minority.Never visited kalash never raised questions in the parliaments provincial and national.Visiting kalash only when the kalash celebrating their religious ceremonies just make the kalash disturb,only photo sessions nothing else.Recommend