The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan has banned Holi celebrations and other cultural festivities in universities, saying that recent Holi celebrations in a federal capital university went "overboard" and "challenged" the country's religious identity.
In a directive to all of its affiliate universities, Dr. Shaista Sohail, Executive Director at the HEC in Islamabad, said: "It was observed that the recent event of Holi celebration at the Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) Islamabad, challenged the country's identity as an Islamic state and its societal values, becoming controversial through being widely publicised and reported, raising concerns over its negative effects on the country's image."
"HEC being cognizant of its responsibilities as per mandate laid down in its ordinance has been formulating policies, guideline principles and priorities for the betterment of the Higher Education sector based upon the concepts embodied in our own culture, values, and traditions, thus preserving the nation's ideology," stated the HEC directive.
"Unfortunately, it is sad to witness activities that portray a complete disconnect from our sociocultural values and an erosion of the country's Islamic identity. One such instance that has caused concern was the fervor exhibited in marking Hindu festival of Holi. This widely reported/publicised event from the platform of a university caused concerns and has disadvantageously affected the country's image," the HEC directive added.
"Foregoing in view, it is advised that the HEI's may prudently distance themselves from all such activities obviously incompatible with the country's identity and societal values," the HEC directive maintained.
Interestingly, the HEC directive also related the recent Holi celebration at QAU, which it maintained, went "overboard and challenged" the country's religious and societal values, with a hidden agenda of some individuals and elements, who may use such events for what it termed as "self-serving vested interests".
This has stirred a debate as it referred to the Holi event in QAU Islamabad, which was claimed to be the biggest Holi celebration in Pakistan. The event attracted both appreciation and criticism from various quarters, with some praising it for promoting cultural diversity, while others criticised it for going against the Islamic traditions and values.
A debate is underway after the HEC notification between maintenance and understanding of a balance between cultural expression and religious identity at educational institutions.
"It is important to preserve the country's Islamic heritage. Such incidents are used to stretch the already confused youth further away from the Islamic values. And educational institutions need to be careful because facilitation of such events that are aimed at countering our religious values cannot be tolerated," said Waqas Talib, a religious scholar.
Others argue that cultural events like Holi should be allowed as they create and spread the knowledge of diversity that exists among all cultures and religions.
"Cultural festivities should be allowed as long as they are conducted with respect and understanding. Holi celebration is a colourful cultural event. There is no harm in celebrating it with the same zeal. Such events not only create cultural acceptability but also inculcate religious respect for all religious followers and their values," stated Tahira Abdullah, a rights activist.
Experts say that HEC's decision to ban Holi celebrations in universities reflects the complex yet strong imposing resistance the conservative religious elements hold in the country.
"The ban on Holi celebrations in Pakistani universities reflects the complexities surrounding balancing religious identity and cultural diversity in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society. As the nation grapples with these issues, fostering an environment that promotes dialogue, understanding and respect for all beliefs and traditions in essential," said Moeed Pirzada, senior political analyst.
( 610 Words)