KARACHI: The first-ever public holiday for Holi announced by the Sindh government last week was not welcomed by everyone. Despite being a move towards greater religious unity, naysayers had a bone to pick with the declaration, which they felt should be limited to the Hindu community.
Members of the Facebook group Halaat Updates, where Karachiites discuss everything from electricity outages to open manholes, weighed in, some of them in a retrogressive manner, when the announcement was first issued.
“Iqbal, hum sharminda hain [we are disappointed],” one member joked, referring to the cancelled Nov 9 holiday in honour of Iqbal.
Another member asked, “Are Muslims around the world offered holidays on [their] holy days?... Pakistan is [an] Islamic state so I strongly condemn this law.”
On Wednesday, it seemed that the government yielded to its critics— but only momentarily. The Sindh labour and human resources department issued a second contradictory notice, which stated that "the holiday would be observed by all the Hindu workers". This implied that non-Hindus were not allowed to take the day off.
However, the matter cleared up soon after by the Chief Minister’s office revoked the second notice and stated that the holiday applied to people of all faiths.
Also read: Why a public holiday for Holi isn't enough
'No to a public holiday'
At the forefront of the criticism is the Private Schools Management Association (PSMA), whose members raised a hue and cry shortly after the Chief Minister’s announcement.
“Today we are announcing a public holiday for Holi, tomorrow we will be telling everyone to read Ramayana!’” PSMA Chairman Sharafuz Zaman says. He adds that he is worried that having a holiday on account of Holi will have “a negative impact on the young and innocent children" and says other schools agree with him.
Without taking names of specific schools, Zaman says faculty members have been calling him all morning to report that many students want to learn about the festival, and want to know when it will be celebrated in their schools.
“What do we tell them? Do we tell them it’s a festival where people throw colours, drink bhang, and dance? If someone wants to go play holi, they can go ahead,” Zaman goes on. “But by declaring it a public holiday, we have advertised it in every home."
He says that he does not oppose the Hindu community’s right to celebrate Holi. “The government is free to announce 10 days off,” he says. ”But the holiday should only apply to Hindus, and not be made public".
'What about Iqbal day?'
When Iqbal day was cancelled on November 9, the decision was defended by educational institutions and the government alike on the grounds that schools needed more working days, not holidays. Now, people are criticising the government for cancelling the revered poet's day, saying the government seems to have replaced it with a public holiday for Holi.
The Private School Management Association Karachi publicly took issue with the holiday when it felt that "Iqbal day and other important religious occasions were forgotten over Holi".
The paranoia doesn't end here. A number of Pakistanis seem to view the cancelling of the Iqbal day holiday as linked to a narrative of furthering Hindu traditions in the country.
"What are we conveying to our coming generation? We are pushing them to celebrate Hindu religious festival," a comment on the group's Facebook post said.
Standing strong with the minorities
However, Rasheed Chana, the CM's spokesperson, maintains that educational institutions have largely welcomed the decision as a step forward. His proof: most schools in Karachi have complied and remained closed.
Chana adds that notices will be issued to institutions which remained open. He is also quick to explain why the public holiday was only announced in Sindh. The decision, he says, was made keeping in mind the Hindu populations who live all over the province. “All communities should be allowed to live on their own terms,” he says.
He is confident that the earlier mishap in communication had nothing to do with the critics' pressure. "Who can pressure the Chief Minister?" Chana says jokingly.
Aside from the inter-departmental error in communication, the Sindh government has ignored all protests and complaints. For the first time in Sindh's history, the province's people — Hindus or not — have a chance to take the day off, and partake in the festivities of Holi.