When I went to India for a Youth Peace Fest and United States for a Summer Study Program, I was frequently subjected to some rather bothersome questions:
“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, 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 having some basic and minor issues, we do celebrate each of our festivals including Dewali, Holi, Thadri, Raksha Bandhan with full zeal and zest with our fellow compatriots.
In Pakistan, Hindus make up around two percent of the country’s 200 million people and they mostly live in southern Sindh province. Hindus have had a very rich background. They are business oriented, educationists, philanthropists who always believed in the message of humanity, interfaith harmony, tranquility and peace.
Talking about Holi, also termed as the festival of colors or festival of sharing love, it’s not only an ancient Hindu religious festival but a cultural and spring festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities 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, forgive and forget, and repair broken relationships. It 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 a few decades back, people in Pakistan were living really peacefully in colors of love and brotherhood, with no discrimination with regard to religion, color, cast and creed. Then unfortunately waves of intolerance, religious extremism arose and deeply affected the peace and beautiful harmony of Sindh and Pakistan.
Two years back, a day before Holi, a temple and a Dharamshala were ransacked and burned down by the angry mobs in Larkana. Hindu communities closed their businesses, remained confined to their homes along with their kids as the unruly mobs continued protests in these areas, holding sticks in their hands and there was nobody to control the agitating demonstrators. Because of this the Hindu Community in the entire Sindh did not celebrate Holi owing to the fear from the religious extremist demonstrators.
But while there are some evil people, there are many good people as well. I must appreciate those Muslim friends, who realized our situation, and called us to celebrate Holi with them at their place. Celebrating Holi with Muslims and Christian friends was a true example of brotherhood and interfaith harmony. I do not think that they were being different because the fact is that extremism is not the essence of any religion. It can happen anytime and anywhere. There are good and bad apples in every basket.
Being a minority, I never felt people being unjust or having discriminated against me on the basis of my religion. On the contrary, many of my Muslim friends have asked me if they can join me for Holi celebrations and expressed desire to share the joys. Similarly, I feel no hesitation in celebrating Eid with my Pakistani brothers and sisters. I believe that the only thing which separates us from each other is the borders which we make in our mind and here I will second what Nelson Mandela said:
“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, wanted to attend the mega events happening in temples and community halls, but couldn’t as exams would be at the same time and as there was no holiday observed in schools and colleges. This was true till this Diwali in November 2015.
But now, I feel happy and proud to share that the Government of Pakistan has started considering Hindus and other minorities as equal citizens of Pakistan, and 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. Sindh Government was the first one to announce a public holiday throughout the province to mark the occasion of Holi. It’s really a commendable step towards a positive Pakistan, which shows it’s a tolerant country, where people of any religion can celebrate their festivals with full freedom.
This is in line with the vision of our founding Father, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who had formed this country on secular and human grounds. In his speech of 11th August 1947 he said:
“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 an epitome of love and a peace connector. The festival of color brings people from different backgrounds, caste, color, creed or nationalities under one roof to celebrate. We as humans should look for similarities between each other rather than differences. If we open the eyes of our heart we will find peace connectors, whether it’s food, festivals, traditions, history or customs. It’s high time we taught our kids to treat everyone as human beings and respect the religious differences. Only then we can move on with head held high and to make Pakistan a better place to live for all.
I wish that the colors of Holi spread the message of peace and happiness around the globe. I’m proud to be a Sindhi and proud to be a Pakistani. Pakistan zindabad!
About Author: Rajesh Kumar is a doctor by profession and a youth peace activist. He is from Hyderabad, Pakistan. He tweets at @Rajeshonlyrulz