At least 220 arrested while celebrating Basant festival in Rawalpindi
Young people fly kites on a rooftop during the Basant Kite Festival. —AFP
Hundreds of young Pakistanis flew kites from the rooftops of the garrison town of Rawalpindi on Friday, celebrating a colorful ancient festival despite a ban imposed by authorities in 2007 following a series of accidents.
In the past, enthusiasts have used acid-soaked string and piano wire in kite fights, causing terrible injuries to people caught in entanglements on the roads, including cutting the throats of motorcyclists.
Victorious participants and their supporters firing into the air can also cause death or injury when the rounds fall to the ground.
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The ban hasn’t stopped Friday’s celebration of Basant, a kite festival that marks the arrival of spring and the high winds it brings.
“The festival is not worth a human life, but young Pakistanis don’t have many entertainment options,” said Raja Rameez, a 21-year-old pharmacist who invited dozens of friends to watch from his rooftop.
Police arrest kites that defied a ban during the Basant Kite Festival. —AFP
Hundreds of youngsters played cat and mouse with more than 1,500 police officers, who used binoculars and drones to try to scout the locations of the kites.
AFP saw officers baton-loading groups of youths and putting some into the back of packed paddy wagons.
Police said at least 220 people were arrested; violators can be fined up to 100,000 rupees (about $570).
“It’s quite difficult for us because people’s lives are at stake,” said Waseem Riaz, a police chief superintendent.
The eastern city of Lahore was once the main center of the Basant festival, attracting thousands of local and foreign tourists, with railways running special trains and crowded hotels.
Until the ban, the event was usually a family affair, with girls traditionally wearing yellow to mark the occasion.
“It’s not half of what it was when we were young,” said Murad Alam, watching the proceedings from his rooftop with his children.
“I feel for my children…they have no possibility of entertainment in this country.”