Pakistan's ancient religion

Maureen Lines gives insight into the ancient religion of the Kalash people who live in the mountains

The Kalasha religion is a complex, convoluted subject with multi-layered and often paradoxical beliefs. Unlike religions such as Christianity, there is no separation between the religious and secular life.

Kalash is based on the strict separation of the pure (ONJESHTA) and impure (PRAGATA) realms. The pure realm is associated with mountain tops (Home of SUCHI – fairies of supernatural beings), the high pastures, goats, goat-houses and carved wooden shrines. The wild MARKHOR goats are the scared herds of the supernatural beings and subsist on juniper.

Women, because they are considered impure due to their menstrual cycle, are confined to a special house (The Bashali) at the time and when they give birth. When women leave the Bashali House, which is always situated near the river, they must wash from head to foot and all their clothes. Women are not allowed to venture near the pure realm of the goat and cattle- houses and the high pastures. If Kalasha men and women break the strict clan law, by marrying into the clan within five generations on the father's side, they offend the Kalasha religion. Women can then no longer take part in the purification ceremony called shishow at the winter festival, when juniper branches are dipped in water and passed over their heads. Men can no longer be anointed with the blood of a goat during purification ceremonies.

This dichotomy in Kalasha society is noticed constantly in the daily life. A woman cannot go to the upper portions of the village if she recently gave a birth, until she has undergone purification ceremony at one of the festivals. She cannot drink out of cups and must carry her own drinking vessel. She may not drink out of a communal water container, but must cup her left hand as an intermediary channel. Women cannot wash inside the houses or carry out their ablutions in sight of the goat and cattle-houses. They must not visit the scared shrines. They are not allowed to eat the meat of the male goat. At the funeral of a woman there is no dancing.

Maureen Lines was born in North London and has worked with the Kalash people in Pakistan for many years. She is the author of The Kalasha people of South Western Pakistan.
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.