Students at a Pakistani university received a disciplinary notice for participating in Holi celebrations at their campus, sparking debate on celebrating religious activities from other faiths in the Muslim-majority nation.
Pakistan's Higher Education Commission bans Holi celebrations across all educational institutes saying that such activities portray a complete disconnect from the country’s sociocultural values and are an erosion of the country’s Islamic identity, reports Aaj News.
— ANI (@ANI) June 21, 2023
The Holi celebrations were performed at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), a state-funded higher education institution (HEI) in the country’s capital, Islamabad. A non-political cultural student organization, Mehran Students’ Council, organized the event.
An official social media page posting news of the university uploaded a video showing students dancing joyfully while celebrating Holi, which is usually celebrated in the Indian subcontinent every 12th month of the Hindu calendar, corresponding to February or March in the Gregorian calendar.
Biggest Holi celebrations at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad Pakistan pic.twitter.com/ZciVSyctuI
— QAU News (@NewsQau) June 13, 2023
“Holi celebrations in Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad, Pakistan. Biggest Holi celebration in Pakistan,” the caption of the video read.
The two-minute-long video sparked mixed reactions from Pakistani netizens. Some criticized the Holi celebrations, with one Twitter user even saying the university students taking part in the celebrations should have been sent to India.
HEC should be held accountable for being anti-Islamic.
That person should be rewarded but Indeed Allah has better reward for him for standing for Islam against evil liberals
— Umer Khan (@UmerKhanNew) June 22, 2023
But the post also garnered positive reactions. One netizen said cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity is necessary for academia to make it a more inclusive and tolerant society.
The registrar’s office at QAU earlier released a notice last May 18th, saying that “no cultural event or festival can be held without the formal approval of the university administration” and that students participating in unauthorized festivities will receive disciplinary notice.
The Quaid-i-Azam University Admission Cell responded to the notice by releasing a statement on their Facebook page.
“Cultural diversity is something very unique in QAU, and cultural performances are key to represent own culture. In the whole subcontinent, only two universities, one from India and QAU from Pakistan, are known for freedom of speech, expression, and tolerance,” the statement read. “Attack on cultural performances or any attempt to ban such activities will lead to further anger and hatred. Raid or any other action by guards or police will always be condemned. Dancing in the name of culture is far better than killing in the name of religion.”
The colorful festivities also drew condemnation from the Pakistani government. The country’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) released a directive urging universities and colleges to “prudently distance themselves from all such activities obviously incompatible with the country’s identity and societal values,” citing "erosion of the country's Islamic identity."
HEC has regretted and withdrawn its earlier notification, which stated a ban on Holi in Universities in Pakistan.
But question is will they hold a person accountable for issuing hateful notice? https://t.co/eu77bdRehA pic.twitter.com/x2UK5oGU9e
— Veengas (@VeengasJ) June 22, 2023
While the directive did not ban Holi celebrations across Pakistani universities, it still garnered a lot of condemnation from Pakistani netizens, including a Sindhi journalist who said that the Pakistani government never recognized the Sindhi language nor honored Hindi religious festivals.
Holi being rooted deep in hindu mythology, has no room for public display in this country. Sindh had adopted this culture from the hindus, a practice which should be abolished there as well. Make no exception, this is a country founded on the core principles of Islam.
— Muhammad Hammad (@Hammad11703032) June 21, 2023
A Pakistani activist, Ammar Ali Jan, also condemned the letter, saying that the HEC is more worried about university students celebrating Holi while Pakistani universities are not even ranked in the top 1,000, adding that “such misplaced priorities are the reason for the intellectual/moral decay we see in society.”