HEC withdraws restriction on festivals after criticism

Ahmed Subhan
The entrance of the HEC building in Islamabad. — HEC website
The entrance of the HEC building in Islamabad. — HEC website

  • HEC maintains it respects all religions, faiths.
  • Commission says earlier order taken "out of context."
  • NA speaker slams HEC's decisions; orders reversal.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) on Thursday issued a notification withdrawing its recent order, directing higher education institutions to "distance themselves" from activities "incompatible with the country's identity and societal values."

In a notification today, the HEC maintained that it respected all religions and faiths, clarifying: "The Higher Education Commission (HEC) is highly respectful of all religions, faiths, and beliefs, and the associated festivals and celebrations observed in the country.

"The message communicated in this regard is in no way intended to hurt the sentiments of any individual or group."

Earlier this week, a notification from the commission had earned the body people's ire.

In a notification issued on Tuesday, the commission spoke about one such "widely reported" and "publicised" instance involving the fervour exhibited in celebrating Holi from the platform of a university, adding that it had "caused concern and has disadvantageously affected the country's image".

The commission's order came in the wake of Holi celebrations held at the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) in Islamabad, which stirred controversy across the internet, with some commending the show of diversity and others criticising the organisers for going against Islamic values.

In light of the lash back and the controversy thus created, the HEC has now stated that the previous order was "out of context".

"The portrayed impression and disseminated connotation that HEC has banned' celebration of any festivities is out of context to the spirit of the communication made, as HEC has emphasized upon the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the country to focus upon the core reason of their existence i.e., academic excellence, research quality and harnessing the talent of the youth towards a structured, disciplined, and responsible citizen as per the nation's ideology," the statement read.

The notification also added: "Considering that the message inferred from the communication has regrettably led to misinterpretations, HEC is pleased to withdraw the same."

During a national assembly session today, the NA speaker condemned the ban and ordered it immediately withdrawn.

Taking to its official Twitter handle, the NA wrote: "While taking notice regarding the ban imposed by HEC on Holi celebration in educational institutions, NA Speaker cited the Objective Resolution and the Constitution of Pakistan (1973), which acknowledge the rights of minorities and ensure freedom for all religious sects to practice their religious activities."

Speaker issued a ruling to reverse the illegal and unconstitutional decision of the HEC, and subsequently, the Parliament will actively pursue the matter. "