The non-Muslim public holidays debate

Published: March 19, 2016
The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55. He tweets at @BangashYK

The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55. He tweets at @BangashYK

Over the past couple of days there has been a lot of media reporting on the resolution passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan, tabled by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani. This has been reported as far and wide as the Huffington Post and Time. While the resolution is a good effort, in reality nothing has changed in Pakistan. Let me explain why.

First, this is simply a resolution and not an act of parliament. Hence, it is not legally binding on anyone. It is just a statement of intent — good intent, but that is about it.

Secondly, and most importantly, it seems that in the excitement over this ‘dramatic’ change, no one has actually read the resolution itself. The resolution as tabled by Dr Vankwani on March 15, 2016 read: ‘This House is of the opinion that the Government should take steps to declare Holi, Dewali and Easter as closed holidays for minorities.’ Every single commentator ignored the part where it said ‘for minorities’ only. So this resolution never even asked for these festivals to be declared national (for all) holidays. It merely opined that the minorities should be given these holidays.

Thirdly, and ironically, these holidays already exist for minorities, so the resolution itself was redundant and there was no point in passing it in any case. Every year the Interior Ministry of the Government of Pakistan publishes a list of ‘gazetted holidays’ which includes public as well as optional holidays. The public holidays are for everyone while the optional list includes about twenty holidays which can be availed by minorities and different Muslim denominations. The notification further says that minorities can avail up to three optional holidays a year, which is exactly the same number this resolution was calling for. While the optional list is primarily for government offices, most private sector employers also follow it and therefore, there was always provision for such holidays for minorities. In fact, the current optional list allows the minorities a wide range of dates on which these three holidays can be taken, hence giving them more room to manoeuvre from year to year.

With the issue of the redundant resolution cleared, let me make one further point. This is not the ‘first’ time Pakistan had approved holidays for the minorities. In the first decade after independence, Pakistan did observe religious days of Hindus and Christians as national public holidays. For example in 1955, Good Friday, Janamashtami and Dussehra were national holidays, while Durga Puja and Sri Panchami were holidays in East Pakistan only. By 1958, only Good Friday and Dussehra had survived, to be dropped completely by the ‘revolutionary’ government of General Ayub Khan which removed all non-Muslim holidays (and some Muslim ones too) from the official calendar. Since then, they have been on the optional holidays list, to be availed by non-Muslims only according to significance, etc.

Since the resolution has now garnered enough good press — even in India — perhaps it is time for the Government of Pakistan to seriously think about making at least one or two of them national public holidays. One each from Christianity and Hinduism will give a positive signal to the world, as well as to other Pakistanis, that Pakistan respects and celebrates the festivals of all of its citizens, not just Muslims. This year has bided well for Pakistan generally; so let us take this additional step in realising the dream of our Quaid and treat all our citizens equally.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Chicagowale Baba
    Mar 19, 2016 - 1:40AM

    Before native spirituality and faith were hijacked for imperialism, to enslave natives and loot and plunder them, festivals were closely tied to native people’s life. Vaishakhi was harvest festival just as Dassara and Diwali was. Jesus was born in May but Church decided to reduce importance of native’s Santa coming festival, it would be good to bring Jesus’s birth day to 25th to get rid of native customs. Wiping out native culture and festivals was done with purpose so natives lose their roots and become parasites who can be used easily as cannon fodder against other distant natives to spread the empire.Recommend

  • Raees
    Mar 19, 2016 - 2:20AM

    Why bother? Who is asking for it? The minorities have a survival problem – religious holidays is not their daily issue.

    As a minority , remove the Blasphemy law. that may help me breathe a little more freely and sleep a little more without worries. Today, I have no idea what awaits me in my coming days – which one of my cousins is going to ‘convert’ to the main religion, which one of my town folks are finally going to take away my land/property , which one from my town accuses me of perceived blasphemy – I know something is going to happen in the coming days/years – how am I to escape it?Recommend

  • zakiurlakhvi
    Mar 19, 2016 - 2:31AM

    Hypocrisy of a sham democracy is exposed … !! … a resolution that lacks the spirit and intent of the entire country standing with minorities in Pakistan, is a fraud that can not pull the wool over the eyes of the world … !! Recommend

  • Paul
    Mar 19, 2016 - 3:22AM

    Can’t help but wonder, isn’t it 70 years too late?

    BTW Easter always falls on a Sunday, so if you really want to give a holiday, give one for Good Friday instead.Recommend

  • Secular Hindu
    Mar 19, 2016 - 9:20AM

    Pakistan comes full circle if it declared national Holidays for days which are important festivals for Hindus and others . Pakistan appears to be slowly opening up after 70 years, while India sliding the other way after recent rise of fake Patriots. Lets hope Civility, respect for all permeates all societies in equal proportion. Recommend

  • Ravi
    Mar 19, 2016 - 10:44AM

    @Secular Hindu: you are, of course, welcome to move to Pakistan if you think things are better there. Recommend

  • Pnpuri
    Mar 19, 2016 - 12:47PM

    @Secular Hindu:
    There are 4 Muslim, two Christians, two Sikh, one budhist, one Jain public holidays in central government offices in india. There are 7 holidays for Hindus. Recommend

  • Parvez
    Mar 19, 2016 - 1:07PM

    Very well said………from what I know these days are ALREADY optional holidays. This ‘ resolution ‘ is classic PML-N playing to the gallery……a rather ill-informed gallery.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Mar 19, 2016 - 1:49PM

    First, this is simply a resolution and not an act of parliament. Hence, it is not legally binding on anyone. It is just a statement of intent — good intent, but that is about it.

    Much ado about nothng ! Why must the Professor choose topics for his articles which the militarised Government of Sharifs are introducing in the parliament for symbolic reasons and for which they have not the mandate from the people. Why should the majority be allowed to take a day off from work on a day which is important for the minority?

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Secular Hindu
    Mar 19, 2016 - 4:55PM

    Pseudo patriots like you have no moral right to preach others. Learn to Hoist Tri Colour even after 70 years, before opening mouth and exposing fascist ideologyRecommend

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