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Pakistan's Forgotten Pagans Get Their Due
April 20, 2017
The Kalash, who claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great's invading soldiers, have lived in isolation in Pakistan for centuries. Now the tiny pagan tribe is getting long-due recognition as a distinct religious and ethnic group.
For centuries, members of the ancient pagan Kalash tribe were left behind and largely forgotten, shielded from the outside world by the towering, remote mountains of northwest Pakistan.
The Kalash consider themselves descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers, and have lived mostly in isolation since the warrior invaded the region more than 2,300 years ago.
The community, which numbers around 4,000 people today, was able to preserve its unique language, religion, and lifestyle. However, the Kalash were long denied recognition as a distinct community by the Pakistani government.
That changed in April, when a provincial court in the northern city of Peshawar officially recognized the much-maligned community as a separate ethnic and religious group.
As a result, the Kalash will be counted separately as Pakistan conducts its first national census in nearly 20 years.
Recognition was the culmination of a lengthy fight in the predominantly Islamic country, where religious and other minorities often come under scrutiny by authorities and even attack by militants.
The man behind the petition to recognize the Kalash fought legal battles and lobbied for years trying see his dream realized.
"The news spread throughout the Kalash villages like wildfire," 32-year-old Wazir Zada says of hearing that the initiative had succeeded. "People are very happy. Even our Muslim neighbors are very happy. They said 'our brothers have gotten their identity.'"
Zada says the "historic" decision will give the Kalash the same rights and protections enjoyed by other ethnic and religious minorities, including reserved seats in the provincial assembly and the recognition of Kalash as an official language in Pakistan.
The Kalash people are unlike any group in Pakistan. About half of the Kalash practice a form of ancient Hinduism infused with old pagan and animist beliefs. They celebrate religious festivals with music, dancing, and alcohol -- which they brew themselves.
Their rituals include married Kalash women eloping with other men, and boys having sexual intercourse with any woman they choose after reaching puberty. Other rituals include sacrificing dozens of goats.
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