Hindus celebrated Holi, one of the community’s most significant religious festivals on Saturday. But while ceremonies were held across the country, the vast majority of Hindus did not take leave and went about their everyday chores.
While most employers are flexible about giving leave and government employees use off-days from their quotas, private companies cut salaries of those who avail the holiday.
“Minorities should have equal rights. Those working for the government should be given special leave,” says Shakuntala, whose husband works for a government office in Multan.
According to the Pakistan Hindu Council’s statistics for 2011, over seven million Hindus live in Pakistan. The figure is almost double that of Christians in the country who enjoy a public holiday on Christmas.
Ram, who is a senior member of the community from Rahim Yar Khan, said that it was regrettable that minorities were living in fear. “Even though the constitution says so, religious minorities in the country do not enjoy the same rights as those enjoyed by the majority,” he said.
While heads of state also send out felicitation messages for Eid and Christmas, no such greetings are made for Hindu festivals. For Eids, special monetary announcements are also made but for Hindu festivals, only the government of Punjab announced special financial relief. The provincial government has given Rs5,000 to each Hindu family living in southern Punjab, where over 150 Hindu families live. However, in Sindh, where many more Hindu households can be found, no such fiscal measure was announced.
Over 97 per cent of Pakistan’s Hindus live in Sindh and Punjab. “We have not received any stipend or other financial assistance even though this event is an important one for the community,” said Rajeev, a young labourer from Jacobabad.
While those with jobs are able to take days off, students, especially schoolchildren, almost always have to miss out on ceremonies to attend school.
“I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony because I had to attend class. I am very upset at missing out,” said Raas Damin, a student of grade 9 in Hyderabad.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2011.