Salman Sufi, the head of the Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit, revealed on Wednesday that Education Minister Rana Tanveer Hussain had requested the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to retract a notification objecting to the celebration of the Hindu festival of Holi at a university.
In a tweet, Sufi stated, “Have spoken to Rana Tanveer Sahib, and he has taken stern notice of the notification by the HEC on discouraging religious festivals and has asked them to withdraw it,” following media reports about the June 20 notification.
The notification, available to Dawn.com, was issued by HEC Executive Director Shaista Sohail to vice-chancellors and heads of institutions.
The HEC claimed in the letter that the “widely reported/publicised” Holi event held at a university had caused concerns and negatively impacted the country’s image.
The letter emphasized that higher education institutions (HEIs) had the responsibility of disseminating knowledge and molding the youth into cultured individuals, as well as creating a skilled workforce aligned with the country’s needs.
It stated that HEIs had the ultimate responsibility of shaping the youth into responsible citizens, prepared to contribute to nation-building.
The letter further mentioned that the HEC formulated policies based on cultural values and traditions to preserve the nation’s ideology. It expressed disappointment over activities that appeared disconnected from socio-cultural values and eroded the country’s Islamic identity. The Holi festival celebration was cited as one such instance that raised concerns and negatively affected the country’s image.
Although the HEC letter did not specify the university in question, it came shortly after Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad gained attention on social media for hosting a Holi event on March 8. Videos circulated on social media showed students dancing, throwing colors, and enjoying music during the event.
The HEC letter acknowledged the importance of cultural and religious diversity but advised HEIs to approach such activities with caution and without going overboard. It emphasized the need to educate students about self-serving vested interests and promote critical thinking.
The letter recommended that HEIs prudently distance themselves from activities that were incompatible with the country’s identity and societal values.
The HEC’s notification faced criticism online, with netizens expressing discontent. A Sindhi journalist, Veengas, highlighted that Islamabad needed to recognize the significance of Holi and Diwali, which were part of Sindhi culture.
She stated, “Islamabad neither accepts our Sindhi language nor does it honor the Hindu festivals.”