The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has recommended all universities abstain from observing the Hindu festival of Holi on their premises.
In an official memo dispatched on June 20, a copy of which The Express Tribune possesses, the HEC addressed all higher education institutions. The letter states, “It would be prudent for higher education institutions to distance themselves from activities distinctly incompatible with the nation’s identity and societal norms.” The HEC also urged these institutions to dedicate their energy towards engaging students and faculty in academic endeavours, intellectual conversations, cognitive learning, and fostering environments conducive to rational discourse and extracurricular activities.
Significantly, students of Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) had commemorated Holi on June 13. The event, organized by the Mehran Students Council (MSC) and involving five other students councils, took place in the parking area nestled between the International Relations and Anthropology departments.
In her letter, HEC’s Executive Director Dr. Shaista Sohail expressed disappointment, saying, “It is unfortunate to observe events that display a stark disconnect from our sociocultural norms and weaken the country’s Islamic identity. One such event that has caused concern was the celebration of the Hindu festival of Holi.” She further mentioned that such events, especially when publicized from a university platform, tarnish the nation’s image.
Twitter Reactions Over Holi Celebration in University
Despite denial from the QAU administration over arranging a separate event for female students, the organizers proceeded with the celebration after office hours, according to MSC General Secretary Bisharat Ali. Not only QAU students but students from various universities in Islamabad participated, tallying the total attendees to over 3,000.
“We’ve been celebrating Holi for years as a show of solidarity for our Hindu friends and peers,” Ali said. According to him, approximately 100 Hindu students from Sindh are enrolled at QAU.
In the wake of previous conflicts between student councils that led to the university’s closure for about two and a half months, Ali noted, “We aimed to foster unity among all students and create an environment where everyone can put past disagreements behind them. The colours of Holi inspire us to love everyone and to solely despise hatred.”
The prohibition on Holi celebrations by HEC has attracted criticism on social media. Users like Zulfiqar Halepoto and Ejaz Ali have called for the HEC to apologize and the resignation of Dr. Shaista, respectively, claiming her directive is against citizens’ fundamental rights.
Several social media activists have demanded actions against the HEC administration and a revocation of the commission’s directives.
Voicing her perspective, Sindhi journalist Veengas stated, “Islamabad needs to acknowledge that Holi and Diwali are integral parts of Sindhi culture. They don’t respect our Sindhi language, nor do they honor Hindu festivals.”
Taking a stance against the HEC’s decision, activist Ammar Ali Jan argued that “The HEC should be more concerned about the depressing state of the country’s education system. None of our universities even rank in the top 1000 globally.”