PESHAWAR -- The jubilant celebration of Diwali, known as the the "festival of lights", by members of the Hindu community across Pakistan is further evidence that the restoration of peace continues to spur minority religious groups to openly observe their faith.
Followers of the Hindu religion wore their finest clothes, performed religious rituals and lit dyas, or lamps, in their homes and temples to mark the multi-day festival that started on October 27.
"The revival and holding of these events after the establishment of peace has promoted a soft image of the country in the world and disseminated the message that minorities are free to practice their religion and enjoy equal rights -- as enshrined in the constitution of the country," Haroon Sarabdyal, chairman of the All Pakistan Hindus Rights Movement, said on November 5.
"We salute our security forces for their sacrifices in establishing peace and we also appreciate the efforts of our government in providing us a peaceful environment to celebrate Diwali according to tradition and customs," he added.
The participation of minorities in festivals is a good sign and reflects their confidence in the government, Sarabdyal said.
"The celebration of these events will also build a narrative that minorities and those in the majority are united against militancy and will always endeavor to clear the motherland of extremism and oppression in all circumstances," he added.
Harmony and mutual trust
"As a representative of the Hindu community, I am sure that an atmosphere of harmony and mutual trust will further strengthen with each passing day and provide us opportunities to celebrate our festivals in peace in the future as well," Sarabdyal said.
Minority community members recently have started attending such festivals with their families, which was unimaginable in the past as they were being targeted by extremists, said Rumaish Gullu, one of the caretakers of the Hindu Gorakhnath Temple in the Gorgathri area of Peshawar.
"When the situation was unfavorable for minorities, the ratio of females and children was much less, but now their increased presence at such events is indicative of the improved security situation," he added.
"The government is also supporting minorities to freely organise religious ceremonies and festivals in accordance with their culture and traditions," Gullu said.
He added that a function was also held in Nishtar Hall, a cultural centre and music venue in Peshawar, at the beginning of the year that was attended by both majority and minority community members.
"Holding such events further strengthens the relations between our diversified societies and promotes mutual co-existence, while eliminating the risks of mistrust," Gullu said.
Pakistanis of all religions were shocked by the deadly All Saint's Church bombing in September 2013, which killed 104 people, including 87 members of the Christian church, said Nazir Bhatti, a Christian who was employed in the administration section of a local missionary school at the time of the attack.
While the attack instilled fear among minorities in the country, the improved security situation is spurring members of those communities to once again openly celebrate their religion, he said.
"The tireless efforts of the government and security forces have resulted in a satisfactory security situation, and now minorities feel safe and secure to celebrate their festivals in a free environment, Bhatti said.