Karachi Bar Cancels Holi At City Court After TLP-linked Members Express Reservations

Hindu members of KBA initially agreed to cancel celebrations but are now urging it to reconsider its decision, express concerns over creeping religious extremism and hatred

Karachi Bar Cancels Holi At City Court After TLP-linked Members Express Reservations

The Karachi Bar Association has decided to cancel Holi celebrations at the City Courts after certain members expressed reservations over observing an un-Islamic religious festival and warned it could create a religious conflict.

Hindu members of the bar, who initially agreed to cancel the event, have now urged the association to reconsider its decision.

The issue began when a Hindu member of the association, Sri Chand Oad Rajput, sought permission to hold Holi celebrations at the City Court (which houses the city's district courts).

The request was made because the KBA had earlier celebrated other religious events, such as Eidul Fitr, at the City Court's premises.

After considering Rajput's application, KBA's cabinet approved the motion and issued a notification on April 16, stating that they will celebrate Holi at the Shaheed Raja Riaz Road, City Courts, on April 27, 2024.

"Members of KBA are invited by the core cof heart to join us and celebrate this event with our Hindu members," read the notice, which was signed by KBA President Amir Nawaz Warraich, General Secretary Ikhtiar Ali Channa, and KBA's Human Rights Committee Chairman Zahid Hussain Soomro.

But shortly after the notification was disseminated, a social media campaign began against holding the event. By the end of the week, the KBA had received a letter from a member, which forced it to reconsider holding the event.

The letter, dated April 20, was written by Jahanzeb Khan and carrying signatures of at least six other people.

"While Holi is a festival which is not allowed in Islam and it is considered shirk in our religion and celebrating it sin for Muslims and this will create religious conflict between the ember of Bar association," the letter said.

It further argued that the festival involves using coloured powders and water, which can create a mess and pose safety hazards in certain environments, especially on the premises of the city court.

The authors of the letter contended that no other Bar association in Pakistan had decided to celebrate Holi, "which is against the injunction of Islam."

"Allowing Holi celebrations within these premises could potentially disrupt the normal functioning of the court and compromise the decorum expected in such a solemn setting."

It suggested alternative arrangements could be made for court employees and visitors to celebrate the festival in a more appropriate venue outside the court premises.

It was followed by another letter. This one was on the letterhead of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah (TLYRA) and signed by four KBA members, including Ghulam Akbar Jatoi, Manzoor Elahi, Zahid Nawaz and Muhammad Asif. They proclaimed to be linked with the Tehreek Labbaik-e-Pakistan (TLP) and urged the KBA to cancel the no-objection certificate (NOC) for the Holi celebrations.

"Such ceremony of the Holi in Karachi Bar Association is against the spirits of Islam, therefore, the said NOC may be cancelled according to law," it said.

Following these letters, the social media campaign, Hindu members communicated to the KBA that they wished to cancel the event to express solidarity with the Palestinian people who are being targeted in the ongoing atrocities in Gaza.

KBA issued a notification in this regard on Tuesday.

But on Wednesday, some other Hindu members wrote to the KBA, and its Human Rights Committee, expressing concerns over the shrinking space for an inclusive and harmonious society.

"We are aware of some members of the legal fraternity having reservations with regards to the celebration of Holi, while some, perhaps under a mistaken notion, have even alleged that wishing non-Muslims on their religious events or celebrating the same is tantamount to shirk or sin," read the letter by Minorities Rights March (MRM) member Bhevish Kumar to the KBA.

Kumar said that they wish all Muslim members of the bar on Eidul Fitr since "it is our firm understanding that wishing any person on their religious event or partaking their celebration is not tantamount to either renouncing one's own faith or ratifying the creed of another, but simply is solemnly recognizing and upholding the constitutional right of each individual to religious freedom and partaking the inherent duty as humans to celebrate the joys of each individual irrespective of difference of creed."

"The holding of this celebration is not just joyous for our Hindu brethren or the legal fraternity, but reiterates a heartening testament for all members of the Karachi Bar, and even all aspiring-future lawyers, that Karachi Bar remains to be a beacon of a pluralistic society where all legal practitioners are equally welcome to celebrate their faith and customs," it said, adding that the Bar is a pillar of the rule of law where any form of fanaticism or religious bigotry/hatred is not tolerated and where constitutional freedoms are safeguarded, and humanity is celebrated.

In a subsequent letter, Kumar noted that the KBA and its members did not call off Eidul Fitr celebrations or other public celebratory events for similar reasons.

"With utmost respect and deference, we sincerely hope that the request and decision to cancel the celebration of Holi were not impacted in any manner by the demand of certain segments of the legal fraternity calling for the celebration to be cancelled on the pretext that it is perhaps a sin," Kumar's letter said.

It added that if the KBA had decided to cancel the celebrations or had received a request to cancel the celebrations as a result of undue pressure of religious bigotry, using the legitimate pain and suffering of Gaza as a garb, the same is mockery of the plight of the persecuted and furthermore shall emanate legitimate apprehension in the minds of not just religious minorities but all conscientious citizens of religious extremism and hatred creeping in and overpowering one of the most honoured Bar Association which has time and again been a guardian of the principles of freedom of religion, equality of each citizen irrespective of creed and social integration for a tolerant society. 

It is pertinent to note here that the City Courts in Karachi are located opposite to the Sri Swaminarayan Temple, the largest Hindu temple in the city and which hosts the largest gathering for Hindus on religious occasions.

Arshad Yousafzai is based in Karachi and mainly covers political parties, labour, education policy, science and research, minorities, and human rights for The News International