Fear the wrath of God

Published: November 18, 2015
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The Kalash are a unique and fascinating people. PHOTO: ANAM SAEED

What do women seeking abortions, homosexuals in the US military, the animistic tribe of the Pakistani Kalash, and Christmas celebrating, non-vegetarians have in common?

Apparently, God hates them and so we all have to put up with terrorists, strong winds and the earth splitting wide open.

“Look what the Kalash have done now”

In the wake of November’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake, a tragedy that left over 390 people dead, Pakistanis have descended into their favourite game; the blame game.

It’s a familiar, age-old phenomenon. The wrath of God has been a sound explanation for the cruel, unusual, confusing and tragic since the inception of religion, and, perhaps, humankind. In the aftermath of tragedy, our coalition of reasoning has a total breakdown. We remember we are conquerable, mere mortals and this terrifies us, leaving us with few answers and many fears.

And so, we turn on each other.

After 9/11 an American pastor proposed that the terror acts happened because God was angry with Americans over abortions.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one of five deadliest hurricanes in American history, a televangelist observed God had let it happen because of America’s descent into immorality. According to him the natural disaster was proof that the “judgment of America (had) begun”. The same year, a Buddhist monk blamed the Indian Ocean earthquake-generated tsunamis on the Christians. According to the monk, the natural disaster had taken place the day after Christmas because too many Christians had slaughtered animals and consumed their meat for the holiday.

Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake in which 316,000 lives were lost, a prominent rabbi reasoned that God Almighty was obviously sending a message to the gays in the US military. In 2011 the State of Virginia was struck by an earthquake, which took no lives but caused $300 million dollars in damage. The same rabbi again pinpointed homosexuality as the cause. This time he was a tad bit more diplomatic by specifically asking the “gays not to take it personally (because) this is just God doing what God does”.

The Blame Game

In Pakistan, we like to rotate the scapegoats of our blame game.

Some of the favourite contestants favoured by Pakistani conspiracy theorists are (in no particular order) the Indians, Amreekis (Americans), religious fundamentalists, or, as seen in the recent case following this year’s earthquake, the Kalash ‘kafirs infiltrating Pakistan who – despite being a minority of 3,500 in a country of 182 million – are apparently capable of bringing forth the scourge of God.

Or, I don’t know, maybe, there was an earthquake because of an immense build-up of geologic pressure at a subduction zone between two colliding tectonic plates or whatever.

The average reader may not even know who or what a Kalash is.

After all, they are fairly confined to their tribal lifestyle centred in the northern valleys of Pakistan. Plus, there’s only like, 3,500 of them and Pakistan’s a fairly populated place so – unless you’ve snuck up to the mountains for mini-Las Vegas style getaway with booze, beautiful women, and dancing – chances are you don’t actually know a real life Kalash outside of Google Images.

The Kalasha are Pakistan’s smallest non-Muslim community. They reside primarily in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa(K-P). They are polytheists and nature is a big part of their spiritual and daily life. A recent DNA analysis has confirmed the Kalashas are likely descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers. Their laws are highly unique compared to the rest of Pakistan, which is predominantly governed by a combination of Shariah and British common law. Alcohol is not forbidden to them. Divorce is easy enough for Kalasha women looking to change spouses. They must simply write a letter to the prospective new spouse offering herself in marriage and ask that the prospective purchase her at a higher price than the current spouse. Gender segregation is not a part of the daily life of the Kalash. Neither is veiling.

The Kalash are a unique and fascinating people. They are capable of many things. They make their own wine (known as tara), their own recreational drugs (nazar, an opiate-based chewing tobacco is a favourite), they have their own music and even their own set of laws (meaning they are outside the ambit of Shariah law which controls the rest of us Pakistanis).

What the Kalash are not capable of is singlehandedly inviting the wrath of any particular deity or God. And they certainly do not have control of the three colliding tectonic plates (Indian, Eurasian and Arabian) that Pakistan sits on top of and frequently is destroyed by.

Divine Intervention not Divine Retribution

Natural disasters are disruptive. And with this physical disruption comes the disruption of people’s worldviews. The weak, vulnerable and scared are the perfect target for theological institutions looking to win new believers. Combine a vulnerable population with the double-edged sword that is social media and what you have is a platform allowing aggressive, fanatic, and downright lunatic religious zealots to circulate their inflammatory ‘this is God’s wrath’ and ‘they caused this earthquake because they drink and party’ slogans. With emotions already high following the loss of loved ones and destruction of homes and livelihoods, it becomes too easy for a select few incendiaries to drive the country and its otherwise sane citizens towards irrational hysteria.

This unrelenting routine is now the unfortunate norm, which unfolds in Pakistan following a mass-scale tragedy. Instead of endeavouring to repair broken communities, the rhetoric that arises by the right-wing, hardliners results in a damaging blowback, which only leaves already-shattered communities further fragmented and striated.

Instead of a coherent analysis of what happened (an earthquake), and a reasonable response (rally together as a nation, help one another out), we’re left with a gang of bullies – ideologically incompetents hell bent on insisting that the earth’s inevitable shifting process is actually a frightening display of the powers of an evil, angry God.

The valley of the Kalash was once dominated by mostly the Kalash and moderate Ismailis. Today, as a result of migration and forced conversion, the Kalash are few in number compared to a flourishing Sunni majority.

Absolute domination by the majority has left newer generation of the Kalash slowly losing a rich culture and unique religion. The handful left behind face a daily conundrum; convert to Islam or face death, stop production of your wine or be sent to hell by the will of God, cover your women or face hell fire for all of eternity.

Yes, there are faults in the earth’s crust. Yes, weather patterns cause torrential rains and winds.

Yes, this is not Pakistan’s first devastating earthquake. And, yes, sadly this is likely not her last.

In the meantime, as winter fast approaches with both the Kalash and Muslims of Chitral currently exposed to the elements, let’s open our wallets, our hearts, and our homes. And, this time, let’s aim at seeking divine intervention instead of divine retribution.

Maria Kari

Maria Kari

The author is a lawyer and freelance journalist. She tweets as @mariakari1414 (twitter.com/mariakari1414)

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

  • Kushal

    India should welcome these beautiful people to come and settle in Kashmir.Recommend

  • Linux Novice

    Beautiful people, it would be wonderful to spend some time with them. Respects for causing the shift of tectonic plates too, lol.Recommend

  • Bilal

    Horses, cows, goats and sheep are sacrificed in their rituals. are you sure you would not have a problem with beef?Recommend

  • Mahmood Sani

    indian occupied kashmir would be liberated very soon.
    pakistan zindabad. pak army paindabadRecommend

  • Alam cheema

    Dont know about Kalash…but pakistanis are mostly converted hindu/sikhs…all these bhatti/cheema/gujjar….now take pride in their arab and moughal ancestory….Recommend

  • Gautam

    Or better still, India should support them diplomatically and politically for their right to a separate territory in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Disgusting

    You don’t write about the corrupt, the gays the child sex porn and abundance of porn in the west ? They should see wrath of Allah. Recommend

  • Asad

    what if they like to eat beef ?Recommend

  • Asad

    why does that bother you so much ?Recommend

  • Ali Akbar

    Reads like a grade school essay. topic didn’t warrant a whole blog.Recommend

  • Gullu

    But, er,..see,..well, hmmm….they… they are a minority religion. They
    are not Hindus. And Hindustan’s Hindutva ideology says Bharat is for
    Hindus ONLY. The rest leave. The savage ongoing ethnic and religious
    apartheid in Bharat, simply forbids any place for Kalash in Hindu society.
    They will not be accepted by the Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dalis, RSS, Vishwa
    Hindu Parishad, Sadvhi Prachi, Arun Jaitley, Amit Shah and the Silent Lord,
    Modi. He is trying to get rid of ALL religious minorities. Not add.
    Oh ! forgot to mention the roving bands hunting for minorities in Maharashtra.
    [Poona, Mysore, Bangalore, Bombay…]
    Plus, methinks, the Kalash would refuse to move to the rape capital of the world.Recommend

  • Sane

    Are you supporting Kashmiris, Sikhs, Nagaland for separate territory in India. You start first, big brother.Recommend

  • rationalising argument.

    the rape of capital of the world is pakistan , did you forget kasur incident?Recommend

  • rationalising argument.

    they can stay here just like hindus stay in india.yes offcourse they should stop sacrificing cows.Recommend

  • rationalising argument.

    why mullah ? is it because this blog is exposing mullahcracy of pakistan.Recommend

  • Kushal

    yaawn.. Sweet dreams for next thousand years Recommend

  • Kushal

    Google the latest report on religious freedom in both India and Pak. Bye bye take care.Recommend

  • Kushal

    What’s the Issue? Personally I consumed beef many times.Recommend

  • ND

    Very well written. Hope the rest understand.Recommend

  • Gullu

    We are talking about the Kalash. Not YOUR eating habits.
    Will they be hanged? Chased? Their refrigerators searched?
    Meat sent to laboratories for analysis? Mobs of Hindus outside
    their homes? With ropes?Recommend

  • Humza

    You really don’t know that Sikhism is only a few hundred years old while Islam has been present in the lands of Pakistan including Punjab for over 1000 years? Sikhism came much later. There is a mix of influences in Pakistan including other races too which accounts for the hybrid culture. There is very little Arab blood that only came with the invasion of Mohammed Bin Qasim and that too is only in Sind. There is much more Turkic and Mughal influence from many centuries. The Kalash were once thought to be remnants of Alexander’s army which settled in parts of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Humza

    You are mistaken. India is widely known as the rape capital of the world since it has not adequately tackled the dangers posed to women by predators. Rather than make false claims, you need to confront the menage of women in India being raped every few hours or female students in the capital being forced to follow curfews to prevent them from being raped. Rape and child abuse are horrible crimes anywhere but nowhere is this scourge as great as in India.Recommend

  • stevenson

    But the people of Indian occupied Kashmir have long wanted to separate from India and are being kept forcefully in that country. The Kalash have nothing to do with India and their culture has nothing to do with India.Recommend

  • Kushal

    “Will they be hanged? Chased? Their refrigerators searched?Meat sent to laboratories for analysis? Mobs of Hindus outside
    their homes? With ropes?”
    I am talking about accommodating these peace loving people in IndiaRecommend