Religious equality is well and truly under the scope around the University of Auckland rohe, with calls for changes to improve accessibility of specific religious services.
Ideas and challenges have been floated around this week regarding the potential construction, or renovation, of an existing space into what could be a specifically designated Hindu prayer room on UoA’s city campus. Home to almost 45,000 students of multiple faiths and walks of life, the university currently has no such space for individuals of the Hindu faith in any of its campuses.
The call for a designated space of worship was initially made by Hindu Statesperson Rajan Zed, of the Universal Society of Hinduism over the past week. In a statement provided to Craccum, Zed states that talks surrounding a specific place where Hindus can gather and worship on the University site would take meaningful action in ending religious discrimination on campus.
Hinduism is one of the largest religions in the world, with 1.2 billion adherents worldwide, amounting to approximately sixteen percent of the world’s population. It is also one of the oldest, with scholars dating its creation somewhere around 2300 B.C.E and 1500 B.C.E in the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation, near modern-day Pakistan. Zed claims this fact should not be taken frivolously and that all religions, big or small, should be duly respected.
The University of Auckland currently has Maclaurin Chapel, which undertakes numerous events for people of the Christian faith, such as baptisms and seminars regarding Christians in Science, as well as providing a location for Christians and non-Christians to pray and hang out. St Paul’s Church is also available on Symonds Street for weekly services.
Also located on campus is the Muslim prayer space in the Chemistry building. Although access to the space needs to be requested and approved by the university, people of the Muslim faith have an accessible space in which worshippers are able to pray. The spaces have also employed a Muslim and numerous Christian chaplains.
This is not the case for Hindus, as there is no accessible space available at the University of Auckland. In fact, while there are many interfaith prayer spaces available for use, there are no singularly dedicated Hindu prayer rooms at any of Aotearoa’s major universities, a fact that Zed is well aware of.
Zed states that UoA should lead the change within New Zealand universities. He further challenges and calls upon the council and Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater to look into what Zed states as ‘unfair treatment and disparity’ alongside ‘discriminating among various religions and belittling entire communities’ from a ‘five-star public and taxpayer-funded research institution’.
The Hindu statesperson argues a dedicated Hindu prayer space for rituals, and quiet reflections at UoA and other tertiary educational institutes across Aotearoa would establish a connection between education and spirituality. The statesperson says this is an important link for followers of the religion to aid personal and spiritual growth.
Zed suggests that the Hindu prayer room could potentially have an altar containing murtis (statues) of popular Hindu deities such as Krishna, Vishnu, Rama and Shiva, alongside materials to aid spiritual exercise, meditation and festivals.
The call has been made for recognition surrounding diversity of access to a variety of religious services on campuses in Tāmaki Makaurau and around Aotearoa. Whether University officials recognise and/or respond to this remains to be seen.