Pakistan’s watchdog of higher education calls out university for allowing Holi celebrations, expresses concern on erosion of country’s Islamic identity

Islamabad: Taking an exception to a Pakistani university celebrating the Hindu festival of Holi, the country’s Higher Education Commission has voiced concern over the erosion of the country’s Islamic identity and asked them to “prudently distance” themselves from all such activities, a media report said on Wednesday.

While the letter from the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Executive Director Shaista Sohail to the heads of educational institutions did not name the varsity in question, it comes days after Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad gained attention on social media for hosting an event for Holi, which took place on March 8.

In its letter issued on Tuesday, the HEC said that it had “caused concern and disadvantageously affected the country’s image”, reported the Dawn newspaper.

“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 read.

“One such instance that has caused concern was the fervour exhibited in marking [the] Hindu festival of Holi…This widely reported/publicised event from the platform of a university has caused concern and has disadvantageously affected the country’s image,” the letter said.

In one of the videos circulating on social media on the March 8 event, students can be seen dancing and throwing colours in the air as loud music plays in the background.

“While there is no denying the fact that cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity leads towards 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 students need to be apprised to be aware of the self-serving vested interests who use them for their own ends far from the altruistic critical thinking paradigm,” the HEC letter read.

The letter advised higher education institutions (HEIs) to “prudently distance” themselves from all such activities “obviously incompatible with the country’s identity and societal values”.

It said that HEIs had the “ultimate responsibility to polish and nurture the exuberance of youth into learned, mature, and responsible citizens – ready to take on the reins of the country and play their role in nation building”.

The HEC director said the notification was not a “ban” on such celebrations.

Meanwhile, the HEC’s letter has drawn a lot of flak from netizens online including a Sindhi journalist who said that Islamabad needed to understand that Hindu festivals of Holi and Diwali were part of Sindhi culture.

“Islamabad neither accepts our Sindhi language nor does it honour the Hindu festivals,” she said.

“Our universities are not even ranked in the top 1,000. Yet, HEC is more worried about students celebrating Holi. Such misplaced priorities are the reason for the intellectual/moral decay we see in society,” said an Activist Ammar Ali Jan.

Lawyer Jahanzeb Sukhera termed the HEC directive illegal as it was “well beyond the mandate of the HEC as contained in S.10 of the HEC Ordinance”.