Sindh govt objects to HEC advisory ‘banning’ Holi celebrations

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KARACHI: The Sindh government took exception on Thursday to the Higher Education Commission (HEC) advising universities to ‘distance’ themselves from religious festivals such as Holi as celebrating them was ”’incompatible with the countrys identity and societal values.

The HEC has since withdrawn its letter, issued by Executive Director Dr Shaista Sohail, stating that it is highly respectful of all religions, faiths, and beliefs, and the associated festivals observed in the country.

The regulatory body clarified that it has not banned the celebration of any festivities as is being implied in backlash received on social media. The statement specified that HEC was only emphasising the country’s varsities to “focus upon the core reason of their existence, i.e, academic excellence, research quality and harnessing the talent of the youth towards a structured, disciplined, and responsible citizen as per the nation’s ideology”.

Shortly after the HEC withdrew its letter, the Sindh government issued a statement opposing “the ban imposed by the HEC on celebrating the Hindu religious festival Holi in universities across the country”.

Taking strong exception to the HEC’s advisory letter, the provincial government declared the move “against Islamic religious tolerance”.

“This decision of HEC will cause more intolerance and division in the society,” said Sindh Universities and Boards Minister Muhammad Ismail Rahoo. “Sindh has been the guardian of the unique traditions of religious tolerance for centuries.”

The law of Pakistan does not empower any individual or institution to prevent citizens of other faiths from celebrating their religious and cultural festivals, reminded the statement.

On Tuesday, the HEC had come under fire after Dr Sohail issued the letter to varsities across the country in apparent reaction to Holi festivities organized at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) in Punjab on June 13.

Around 100 Hindu students are enrolled at QUA, which was recently closed for nearly 90 days over clashes between two student councils. Roughly 3,000 students from the varsity and other universities across Islamabad attended the celebrations.

The festival was organised by the Mehran Students Council (MSC) at QAU. Five other student councils, including Punjab Students Council, Pashtoon Students Council, Siraiki Students Council, Baloch Students Council and Gilgit Student Council, participated in the festival hosted in the parking area located between International Relations and Anthropology departments.

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