Muslim-majority Pakistan established minority religious festivals as public holidays on March 17. The landmark decision will formally recognize Holi, Diwali and Easter as public holidays.
The law passed by Pakistan’s parliament is only the first step toward formally recognizing the religious holidays, reports IBT. The interior ministry must approve the measure for it to officially take effect.
The bill was sponsored by Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz party.
“This house is of the opinion that government should take steps to declare Holi, Diwali and Easter as closed holidays for minorities,” read the bill.
While there was not immediate opposition to the holiday legislation, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid initially voiced hesitance.
“Pakistan already has one of the highest rates of public holidays compared to the rest of the world,” said Rashid while the measure was being discussed.
Rashid then clarified that he was not opposed to recognizing the religious holidays.
The move to recognize minority Hindu and Christian holidays comes as many religious groups face persecution in the country.
In 2015, NGO Human Rights Watch noted a rise in judicial unfairness and violent attacks facing religious minorities in Pakistan, HRW reported.
“Pakistan’s government did little in 2014 to stop the rising toll of killings and repression by extremist groups that target religious minorities. The government is failing at the most basic duty of government - to protect the safety of its citizens and enforce rule of law,” said Phelim Kine, Asia deputy director of HRW.
Among the issues noted by HRW is a blasphemy law that legalizes violence against religious minorities in some cases.
On Oct. 16, 2014, a Pakistani man was sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy after speaking out against religious intolerance.
The bill’s sponsor held that recognizing minority religious holidays would improve “Pakistan’s image” around the world.