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NCHR report sheds light on issues plaguing Kalash community

CHITRAL: Forced conversions, land settlement, non-availability of school education curriculum as per their religious beliefs and denial of many other basic human rights are the most overwhelming problems plaguing the Kalash community, revealed a report released here.

The report titled ‘Protection, Preservation and Promotion of Constitutional Rights of Indigenous Kalash People’ launched by the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) is the first of its kind effort by the commission since its inception in 2012.

The report covers a plethora of issues being faced by the community while no institution dared to highlight the violation of their fundamental human rights.

The report stated that during candid discussions of Kalash elders with the NCHR team regarding the alleged incidents of forced conversions of Kalash people to Islam, the commission learnt that these people had no option other than converting to Islam owing to hostile environment.

The girls, in particular, were at the receiving ends of forced conversion and marriages.

“They tacitly admitted that the overall socio-economic and political conditions of the area are influencing the decisions of some Kalash people to abandon their religion and culture,” the report said.

The literacy rate of Chitral, according to the report, is 73 percent for males and 44 percent for females. However, Kalash elders, according to the report, expressed concerns particularly over lack of the required education infrastructure in the valley.

Kalash children cannot pursue college education in Chitral city due to poverty and for the majority of Kalash people it is not possible to meet the expenses of hostel accommodation.

Kalash elders demanded exclusive quota separate from other minorities for admissions in colleges and universities and that some rooms must be reserved in the hostel of Chitral Degree College for their community.

The report said that the Kalash children were not being taught the syllabus as per their religion and culture that was a clear violation of Article 30 of the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which protects the right of minority or indigenous children to learn about and practice their own culture, language and religion.

Land settlement was another serious issue facing the Kalash community. The grand public gathering for resolving local disputes over land demarcations has not been held and the officials of the land revenue department have not held any meetings with the locals regarding their historical claims on their ancestral lands.

The deprivation from their historical claim of ownership of Silver Oak forests in Kalash valleys granted to them by the Mehtar-e-Chitral about three centuries ago was another alarming issue.

The land revenue officials have told the Kalash people that the Silver Oak forests are a part of ‘Shamilaat’, which means that a Kalash family cannot exercise its privileged right over the Silver Oak forest rather it would have to share the forest with all the land owners of the area.

“The issues concerning indigenous communities, for instance threats to their environment and natural resources, should be identified through environmental assessments and, therefore, appropriate measures should be taken under policies focusing on the matter,” the report added.

Article 23 of Pakistan’s constitution grants every citizen the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property. However, this constitutional provision is yet to be implemented in letter and spirit by the government in the case of Kalash people.

The Kalash can be defined as indigenous people of Kafiristan. The Kalash people’s religion may even predate Hindu and Zoroastrian religions in this area with the possibility of some influence on the beliefs of these religions.

While giving some recommendations to resolve the issues of the community, NCHR Chairperson Ali Nawaz Chohan said, “We demand UNESCO’s prescribed measures to protect the Kalash culture. District and provincial government must take immediate notice of the reservations of these people. KP elementary and secondary education department should utilize the existing printed education resources available in Kalash language and as per these people’s religion.”

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