Leaders of religious minorities say the order banning Hindus' Holi celebration in universities was anti-constitutional
Pakistani Hindus celebrate Holi, the spring festival of colors in Karachi on March 6. (Photo: AFP)
Education officials in Muslim-majority Pakistan have withdrawn an order that banned university students from celebrating Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, after it sparked outrage on social media.
The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan withdrew the order on June 22, just two days after it banned campus celebrations of Holi on the grounds it was an "erosion of the country's Islamic identity.”
The order was issued after videos appeared on social media showing groups of youngsters dousing each other with colored powder.
The scenes "caused concern and has disadvantageously affected the country’s image,” said the order signed by Shaista Sohail, who heads the Commission.
In the new order, Sohail said its earlier notification "regrettably led to misinterpretation,” and was withdrawn.
Leaders of religious minorities, who welcomed the withdrawal, said Hindus and Christians face frequent discrimination and violence in the country, where Muslims make up 97 percent of the 230 million population. Hindus form just two percent.
The withdrawal was like “slapping someone and apologizing later,” said Jaipal Chhabria, a Hindu member of Pakistan's National Commission for Minorities.
“The real question is why issue such an order in the first place. It was an unconstitutional order because our constitution guarantees freedom to every citizen to profess, practice, and propagate his religion,” he told UCA News.Roheel Zafar Shahi, secretary-general of the Pakistan Minority Rights Commission, said the day after the order was issued she called up Sohail and expressed “the concerns of religious minorities.” Sohail told her that the order was issued after some people objected to actions during a Holi celebration and that there was no intention to victimize any religion, Shahi told UCA News. Salman Sufi, an aide to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, said the minister of education had taken "stern notice" of the original ban.
"Religious harmony is to be celebrated rather than deterred... We must bring cohesion rather than division in our society," he tweeted.
In the past, Pakistan has prohibited Valentine's Day celebrations, banned contraception adverts on TV, and blocked several social media networks, citing them as immoral and contradictory to Islamic values.
Last year the United States placed Pakistan on a list of "countries of particular concern" for religious freedom.
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