The Kites of Blasphemy
Basant is celebrated in Pakistan with great fervor and the interest in celebrating it seems to be increasing every year. The celebrations have reached the point that invitation cards are printed out. It is celebrated on different days in the country so that "the spirit of Basant" is kept alive nationwide and people can participate in it on a national scale. The night of Basant is reminiscent of 'Qiyam-ul-Layl', in the sense that people do not sleep on this night. But the 'ibadah' is of a different kind. Reputed hotels have their rooftops booked for the whole night. The whole night is spent in flying kites, merry-making, with Indian music blaring on loudspeakers in the background.
Like many of our rituals, its origins remain largely unknown to the majority of people. But there is no denyng that this is a dangerous activity. It causes severe damage to life and property. Many lives are lost and the country suffers damages going into hundreds of thousands of rupees every year in accidents related to it. A few years ago three grid stations caught fire on this occasion because of short circuits caused by metal wires used in kite flying. Yet, the government promotes the celebration of Basant with an almost religious intensity.
If people ever do stop to think about how Basant originated, they assume it was a Hindu festival to mark the change of seasons. That Muslims should be participating in a pagan celebration would be bad enough. But the reality is starker than that. Are you ready for this? Here is an account of its origin from Dr. B.S. Nijjar's book, "Punjab Under the Later Mughals." According to him, when Zakariya Khan (1707-1759) was the governor of Punjab, a Hindu of Sialkot, by the name of Hakeekat Rai Bakhmal Puri spoke words of disrespect for the Prophet Muhammad and his daughter Fatima, Radi-Allahu anha. He was arrested and sent to Lahore to await trial. The court, acting according to the law, gave him capital punishment. The non-Muslim population was stirred to request Zakariya Khan to lift the death sentence given to Hakeekat Rai but he did not accede to their request. Eventually the death penalty was carried out and the entire non-Muslim population went into mourning.
As a tribute to the memory of this blasphemer, a prosperous Hindu, Kalu Ram initiated the Basant 'mela' in (Marrhi) Kot Khwaja Saeed (Khoje Shahi) in Lahore. (This place is now known as Baway di marrhi.) It is the last stop on the route of Wagon no. 60 from Bhati Gate. Dr. B.S. Nijjar states on Page no. 279 of his book that the Basant 'mela' is celebrated in memory of Hakeekat Rai.
The ignorant crowds and their equally ignorant vocal advocates may ask "Hey, what's wrong in a little fun?" But should they continue to fly the kites of blasphemy?
(References taken from Salim Rauf's "Waah re Musalmaan.")