ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly displayed exceptionally high regard for religious minorities on Thursday as non-Muslim MNAs suggested that days be shaved off the Eid holidays so that national holidays could be observed on Hindu festivals as well.

PPP MNA Ramesh Lal and PML-N’s Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the PML-N raised the issue on the floor of the house. Mr Lal lauded the Sindh government for declaring Holi a gazetted holiday and asked that the federal government should also follow suit.

Dr Vankwani too demanded that the federal government should declare a holiday on the occasion of Holi and Diwali – the two main Hindu festivals.

“If you think that there are already too many holidays in the country, then days can be subtracted from the three to four-day long Eid holidays,” he added.

He was referring to a statement by Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed, who recently observed on the floor of the house that Pakistan already had too many national holidays.

Surprisingly, none of the legislators from religious parties – Jamaat-i-Islami and JUI-F – objected to Dr Vankwani’s suggestion. Later, in his speech, Khalil George, a Christian PML-N MNA, also supported the demands of the Hindu MNAs.

“We do not have any problems with holidays on our festivals as Easter falls on a Sunday, while Christmas is already a holiday thanks to Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s birth anniversary,” he said, adding, “but I do support their cause.”

Talking to Dawn, PTI’s Hindu MNA Lal Chand Malhi said that even if there is not a national holiday on Holi and Diwali, these festivals should be made gazetted holidays for Hindus. “This facility is available to religious minorities in many countries,” he said.

Incidentally, Vijay Jolly – a senior member of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) who recently visited Islamabad, had observed that Muslims in India have holidays on both Eids, as well as Ashura.

Speaking at the National Press Club, he had called for a “similar arrangement for religious minorities in Pakistan too”.

India is not the only country in the world where gazetted holidays are available for members of all religious minorities. Most western countries also have such provisions.

“In Scotland, Muslim employees just need to inform their immediate senior or the HR department – in both public and private sector institutions – that they want a holiday on Eid, and it is granted,” said Adnan Alam, who is currently visiting Pakistan from the UK.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2016