Youngsters in several Pakistani cities are busy planning Holi bashes after a resolution was passed by parliament to declare the festivals of minority communities as official holidays, a move that’s likely to leave peace-bashers dejected.
Pakistan’s minority Hindus have been celebrating Holi over the years but in the absence of support from authorities, the festivities were always low-key. This year, however, there are plans to usher in a change as Muslim organisations have pledged support for organising Holi Milans.
Among those who have planned parties at their homes is Islamabad-based social activist Nida Paras Dayo, who says the people who are most excited with the move to declare Holi as a holiday are Hindu students in schools and universities.
“People in Pakistan are very optimistic that Holi on March 24 will be declared a holiday. Hindu students in schools and universities couldn’t celebrate it earlier due to exams during this period. I am glad that this issue was put up in parliament after a long struggle,” says Nida.
“I’m so excited at the prospect of celebrating Holi with my Hindu friends, and we have a get-together planned already. There will be delicious goodies to look forward to as our Hindu friends always bring along loads of sweets.”
Pooja Rajput, a young engineer from Karachi, is equally thrilled. A few days ago, her Muslim friends came with her to the local temple for Shivratri celebrations. She is hoping Holi celebrations will be even more exuberant as the government of Sindh province has declared a holiday for the festival.
“It is such a laudable move! I am happy that despite Pakistan struggling with grave issues like religious extremism and terrorism, this was brought up in parliament. Last year, our prime minister attended Diwali celebrations. I am overjoyed that Holi will be declared a holiday for minorities. It is only love that can conquer hatred and this move has reinstated my faith in the victory of good over evil,” says Pooja.
Some Pakistanis have gone on a nostalgia trip, fondly recalling celebrating Holi as kids.
“I played Holi long back in Islamabad. I was invited to a friend’s house for a private celebration of the festival. I eagerly accepted the invite as from what I had seen in movies and TV, it seemed a lot of fun. The party happened in a garden that was set up with mandalas,” says Mehrooz Waseem, an artist-singer and model based in Islamabad.
“We wore white outfits, and got drenched in colour. It was so much fun! Unfortunately, Holi celebrations in Pakistan haven’t been as open and common as I and many young people would like it to be.”
Mehrooz is looking forward to celebrating Holi with more fervour this year. “It is great that it going to become an official holiday! I’m glad that our government is taking such bold steps. It will promote more cultural diversity in our country, protect our minorities’ right to celebration and strengthen cultural ties between India and Pakistan,” she says.
Her friend Mavra Bari is a Bollywood fan, like most young people in Pakistan. The corporate professional from Islamabad experienced Holi for the first time as a student at the University in Toronto, Canada.
“I was invited by some Indian students to play Holi. I obviously said yes as I had grown up watching Bollywood movies where Holi looks so much fun. I was ready to show off my best ‘Khai ke paan banaras wala’ moves,” she recalls.
Mavra says the thought that she could play Holi in a foreign country and not in Pakistan, where she shares this culture with her neighbours, always made her sad. “I am hoping that Muslims will be able to experience Holi the same free way soon. The acknowledgement of Holi as an official holiday will be a great step towards that,” she says.
Last year, students from the National Student’s Federation of Pakistan made a human shield at Swaminarayan Temple in Karachi to protect Hindus celebrating Holi from any untoward incidents.
“Previously, we celebrated Holi only in Karachi. This year, we want to expand to other cities and celebrate Holi on a much larger scale to promote inter-faith harmony. Last year, we got an amazing response from the common people who enthusiastically joined us. We have high hopes that people will come up this year to end the Zia legacy. We will join our Hindu and Christian brothers in their religious festivities,” says Mamoon Alvi, member of the provincial organising committee of NSF’s Sindh chapter.
Civil society activist Raza Khan of Lahore has similar plans. “There are two temples in Lahore- Valmiki Mandir and Krishna Mandir. There will be celebrations at both. I will attend both along with my friends. This Holi is even more special for us as it is exactly a day after Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s death anniversary. Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil. What better occasion to spread the message of communal harmony than Holi,” he says.
Freethinkers and rationalists from Pakistan say the move to make minority festivals holidays definitely sends out a strong message to the minorities and extremists.
Waseem Altaf, a social activist from Lahore, says, “In the pre-Partition times, Hindus and Sikhs celebrated Eid, and Muslims heartily took part in Diwali, Holi and Dussehra celebrations. This progressive move by Pakistan is indeed heartening. While it is symbolic of facilitating the minorities, it also clearly tells the extremists that the government is there to protect minority rights. We are happy that there will be more fervent celebrations this time.”