'Send them to India': The Cost of Celebrating Holi at a Pakistani College

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.

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.

“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.

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."

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.

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.

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