HYDERABAD: Sindh University (SU) has initiated an inquiry after students were told to submit apologies in affidavits for celebrating Holi on campus. SU Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Fateh Muhammad Burfat, apparently disturbed by the backlash to the incident, told a press conference on Saturday that if 'religious discrimination' is established, action will be taken against the concerned official.
"The inquiry committee - headed by Dean of the Faculty of Law advocate Jhamat Mal Jethanand -- has been given a one-point agenda to ascertain whether any discrimination took place," he said, adding that a report will be submitted within a week.
Prof Burfat said the university staff and students celebrate religious and cultural events without any hindrance. "Sindh University has the highest number of Hindu community staff and students compared to any other university. They all work and study together with Muslims with utmost harmony."
According to Prof Burfat, Mass Communication Department Chairperson Prof Badar Soomro informed him that he took action to maintain administrative discipline rather than to deny religious freedom. The VC claimed that 10 students were punished for holding a celebratory event without permission, of which four were Hindus and six Muslims.
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On March 8, a group of students gathered at SU's mass communication department and threw coloured powder at each other in celebration of Holi. Little did they anticipate that their indulgence will land them in trouble.
Over a dozen of them were summoned by Prof Soomro, their student identity cards were confiscated and they were told not to turn up to class until they submit an apology on an affidavit.
According to university sources, a total of 16 students faced this action described as 'discriminatory' by some students and 'disciplinary' by the varsity. Over last two weeks, one after another they all submitted the apology letters. But the last one, submitted on Friday by Raja Deepak, spread like wildfire on the social media.
"...Those were the days of Holi and friends threw colours of Holi at each other as is the tradition. But this was wrong according to the university's law and because of which our department's ID cards were taken away," reads the affidavit.
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Prof Soomro, who has been an active member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan for decades, justified his deed. But he appeared shocked at the affidavit's language as well as the insinuation of religious bias. "No other student has written this way to suggest a prejudice," he said.
He told The Express Tribune that he took administrative action because the students had not obtained prior permission to celebrate Holi. According to him, for any religious or cultural activity the students are supposed to write to the VC or registrar for the permission.
However, some students who faced the punishment asserted that such rigorous procedures have never been part of the university's culture. "When we were new in the university, we saw our seniors celebrating Holi and other religious or cultural activities with complete freedom," a student claimed.
SU Teachers Association President Dr Azhar Ali Shah termed the incident a 'mishandling' by the department's chairperson and demanded a transparent inquiry and action. "SU hasn't imposed any ban on celebration of Holi in the campus. The head of the department took these actions without permission from the competent authorities. He should submit same apology as he got from students," Dr Shah said.
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