Holi Festival

Pakistan Higher Education Commission Reverses Restriction on Hindu Festival

In the face of stiff public criticism, an education body in Pakistan that prohibited a Hindu religious festival on college campuses has done an about turn by revoking its ban.

On June 22, the Higher Education Commission (HEC), a statutory body that oversees university education in Pakistan, withdrew its ban on the celebration of Holi in educational institutions, that cited the Hindu festival’s “erosion of Islamic identity.”

Also known as the Festival of Colors, Holi is a vibrant spring celebration observed primarily in India and Nepal but also in parts of Pakistan, especially in the southern Sindh province. The festival symbolizes unity, love, and the triumph of good over evil.

In a letter dated June 20, the HEC emphasized that the role of higher education institutions is to impart knowledge and play a crucial role in molding the younger generation into “cultured individuals,” the Pakistan-based, English-language newspaper Dawn reported on June 22.

“Unfortunately, it is sad to witness activities that portray a complete disconnect from our socio-cultural values and an erosion of the country’s Islamic identity,” the letter went on to state. “One such instance that has caused concern was the fervor exhibited in marking [the] Hindu festival of Holi. This widely reported/publicized event from the platform of a university has caused concern and has disadvantageously affected the country’s image.”

Although the letter did not specifically reference any particular institution, it was written in response to an incident that took place at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad during Holi celebrations in March. Since then, videos capturing the event have been circulating on social media, showcasing students dancing.

“While there is no denying the fact that cultural, ethnic and religious diversity leads toward an inclusive and tolerant society that profoundly respects all faiths, and creeds; albeit it needs to be done so in a measured manner without going overboard,” the letter stated.

The missive advised higher education institutions to exercise caution and maintain a significant separation from activities that are “obviously incompatible with the country’s identity and societal values.”

The Dawn article quoted Salman Sufi, a politician who heads the Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit, as saying that Education Minister Rana Tanveer Hussain had instructed the HEC to retract the notification prohibiting Holi celebrations.

The HEC letter has sparked criticism across the country, particularly in Sindh, which is home to a significant population of Hindus. Many residents of the province strongly believe that festivals such as Holi are an integral part of Sindhi culture.

In its latest statement following the reversal of the ban, the HEC said it is “highly respectful of all religions, faiths and beliefs, and the associated festivals and celebrations observed in the country.”