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Pondicherry University: HoD asked to step down, case filed against director and writer of the anti-Hindu play, internal committee to probe the issue

In response, the university has initiated an internal investigation by forming a committee to examine the matter. Pending the outcome of this inquiry, the HoD has been instructed to step aside from his role.

Pondicherry University has relieved its Head of the Department of Performing Arts from his duties following a controversy sparked by a play performed by students during the annual cultural festival, Ezhini 2k24, on 29th March. The play, which included disrespectful portrayals of Hindu deities Goddess Sita and Lord Hanuman, led to protests by ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) on 30th March.

In response, the university has initiated an internal investigation by forming a committee to examine the matter. Pending the outcome of this inquiry, the HoD has been instructed to step aside from his role.

On Friday (29th March), the Department of Performing Arts of Pondicherry University staged this controversial play in the annual cultural festival Ezhini 2K24 leading to protests by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) who complained against this play in university as well as a local police station. The Kalapet police registered the case against the play’s Director and Script Writer on charges of outraging religious sentiments. The student organisation also held protests on the university campus and issued a statement about this matter.

In response to the incident, the university formed an investigation committee. According to reports, the University’s Assistant Registrar, D. Nandagopal, informed the student complainants that a high-level committee had been established to investigate the issue and would deliver a report within three to four days.

In a written communication dated 1st April addressed to these students, he wrote, “Pending the Committee report, the Head of the Department has been asked to step down immediately. We have called for an explanation from all faculty members of the Department of Performing Arts.” He added that the University was committed to providing a peaceful and harmonious ambience on campus and would not tolerate any act hurting religious sentiments on its campus. The Registrar In charge has also asked for students’ cooperation to maintain peace on campus.

On the other hand, the students involved in this contentious play have refuted any intention or effort to offend religious sentiments. A statement was also issued by some students of the Performing Arts Department and other students in solidarity with the team performing this play titled ‘Somayanam’. The statement said, “The play is not intended to hurt any religious beliefs. Hailing from different social and cultural backgrounds, we respect the beliefs of everyone equally. If all we hurt anyone’s religious sentiments, we apologize for it.”

According to the statement, the performance depicted the imposition of patriarchal values on women in the style of Therukoothu (street play). They said that the play showed the ancient concepts of female chastity that ‘persist in contemporary society’ and aimed to ‘uproot these ideals’. The statement questioned why a woman’s virtue is often equated with her chastity, prompting consideration of why the same standard is not applied to men. However, it did not tell about why it was necessary to portray Goddess Sita and Lord Hanuman in the way it did to underscore the targetted issue.

Earlier, in its statement, ABVP emphasised the importance of creative expression that respects religious sentiments and avoids inciting communal discord. The organisation said that the Pondicherry University bears the responsibility to respond decisively to the incident, ensuring a balance between freedom of expression and sensitivity toward religious beliefs.

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