Whose Rights are more right?

20 09 2015

Source: Forgotten deal means MUN prof doesn’t have to accommodate hearing-impaired students – Newfoundland & Labrador – CBC News

Source CBC: Prof. Ranee Panjabi

More than anything, I’m curious about the religious aspect of this story.

Below, there are various direct quotes from and links to CBC articles about this incident, and I urge you to read them and form your own opinions/questions. I do not wish to pillory Prof. Panjabi or naively believe everything at face value. I am simply intrigued what ancient Hindu tenet could possibly have included barring its most devout followers from wearing an as-yet un-invented microphone to help a less fortunate scholar.

Since the 1980’s this lecturer at Memorial University of Newfoundland has apparently refused (at least) three times to wear the microphone for an FM transmitter to help hearing impaired students hear more clearly what she’s lecturing, citing religious reasons.

Memorial University of Newfoundland says an agreement made with Ranee Panjabi in 1996 means the professor does not have to wear an FM transmitter to accommodate students with hearing impairments.

Naturally there’s at least one other perspective. While Panjabi refused to speak with CBC, the professor told local broadcaster NTV News she’s the victim of “egregious tabloid journalism.

From the CBC articles we learn:

In 1996, Panjabi told CBC News that wearing such a device was against her Hindu beliefs. The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDP) issued an open letter to the president and vice-chancellor of Memorial last Thursday, stating that Panjabi is causing undue hardship on her students.

The CCDP said it consulted a Hindu scholar and professor from St. Olaf College in Minnesota and couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that the technology conflicts with Panjabi’s Hindu faith.

“I am not aware of any teaching in my tradition that prevents a committed teacher from using helpful technology to foster learning in a student,” Anantanand Rambachan said in a statement provided by the CCDP.

In “The Friends of Voltaire” Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote the phrase “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (which is sometimes wrongly attributed to Voltaire himself) as an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs regarding freedom of expression.

I try and follow such a stance myself. I am not a religious person, nor – plainly – am I woman. However, I do try to support religious freedom and women’s rights. Also, other basic Human Rights like access to education.

If there is a genuine restriction inherent to Ms. Panjabi’s religious beliefs then I have some sympathy for her position. If too – as she claims to NTV – her course is mainly video content and doesn’t include much talking from her, then perhaps the case against her is too strongly stated.

It still leaves open the question though why she has repeatedly stated that it is for religious reasons that she will not wear the microphone. The intersection of workplace expectations/cultural norms – local and imported/religious requirements etc. is a far from trivial one, with the point of balance in continual flux.

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