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When I went to the ‘India for Peace Festival’ and the United States for a Summer Study Program, I was frequently asked a rather bothersome question;
“How are you treated, being a minority in your country?“
“How do you guys celebrate your Religious Festivals?”
My answer has always been very simple – I am treated just like anyone else, one of their own. But if one were to believe the media as an overall indicator for every single person, then we are victims of religious extremism, intolerance, religious discrimination, forceful religious conversion, brutal killings and part of the largest migration in human history.
Despite of having some minor issues, we do celebrate each of our festivals including; Dewali, Holi, Thadri, and Raksha Bandhan with full zeal and zest with our fellow countrymen.
In Pakistan, Hindus make up around two percent of the country’s 200 million people, and they mostly live in Southern Sindh. Hindus have had a very rich background; they are business oriented, educationalists and philanthropists who believe in Humanity, Interfaith Harmony, Tranquility and Peace.
Holi, is also called the ‘Festival of Colors’ or the ‘Festival of Sharing Love’. It is not only an ancient Hindu religious festival, but also a cultural and spring-oriented festival which has become popular with non-Hindus and other ethnic communities in South Asia, as well as outside Asia.
This festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships, and is also celebrated as a thanksgiving for a good harvest. Revelers spray colored powder and water on each other, dance, and distribute sweets during Holi celebrations.
Going 2-3 decades back, people in Pakistan were living peacefully with mutual love and brotherhood, with no difference of religion, color, cast and creed. Then unfortunately, waves of intolerance, religious extremism, rose and deeply affected the peace and harmony of Sindh and other areas of Pakistan.
2 years back, the day before Holi, a temple and Dharamshalla were ransacked and put on fire by angry mobs in Larkana, and the Hindu communities closed their businesses, remaining confined to their homes along with their children as the unruly mobs continued protesting. They went through the areas holding sticks in their hands, with no one present to control the agitating demonstrators. Following these demonstrations of violence, the Hindu community in the entirety of Sindh did not celebrate Holi due to fear from the religious extremist demonstrators.
But when there are narrow-minded extremists, there are good people as well. I must appreciate those Muslim friends who realized our situation, and called us to celebrate Holi with them at their homes. Celebrating Holi with those Muslim, Ismaili and Christian friends was a true example of Brotherhood and Interfaith Harmony.
One thing which we all should make sure of, is that extremism should not associated with any religion; it can happen anytime and anywhere.
There are good and bad apples in every basket.
Being a minority, I have never felt any injustices or discrimination on the basis of my religion. At times, a number of Muslim friends have asked me, if they can join me for Holi celebrations and if they can share in the joy. Similarly, I feel no hesitation in celebrating the Eid with my Pakistani brothers and sisters. I believe that the only thing that separates us from each other is the borders we have built in our mind, and here I will second the Nelson Mandela saying.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
I always wished to celebrate Holi with friends and family, wanting attend the mega events happening in temples and community halls, but couldn’t due to exams going on during festival times or that we would not get a holiday from schools and colleges. And the same was observed till this Dewali in November 2015.
But now, it was more than just a happy moment to know that Government of Pakistan, started considering Hindus and other Minorities as equal citizens of Pakistan, and finally after 69 years, Pakistan’s federal parliament passed a non-binding resolution that called for the country to observe Hindu and Christian holidays, i.e Diwali, Holi and Easter. And then, the Sindh government was the first one to announce a public holiday throughout the province to mark the occasion of Holi. It is really an applaudable step towards a more positive Pakistan, which shows its tolerance, where people of any religion can celebrate their festivals with full freedom.
Even our founding Father, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, formed this country on Secular and Human grounds and addressed on his speech of 11th August 1947;
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one state.”
Holi is a symbol of love and a peace connector. The festival of color brings people from different backgrounds, castes, colors, creed and nationalities under one roof to celebrate. We as humans should look for similarities with each other rather look for differences. If we open our hearts, we will find common factors, whether it’s food, festivals, traditions, history or customs. It’s high time that we teach our kids to treat everyone as human beings and respect their religious differences. Only then, we can progress with heads held high and make Pakistan a better place to live for all.
I wish to let the Colors of Holi spread the message of Peace and Happiness around the Globe.
A very Happy Holi to you all!
Proud to be a Sindhi and proud to be a Pakistani 🙂 Pakistan Zindabad.