By Millie Glaister, BA Politics and International Relations
The Desi Society have made allegations against Parwana Haydar, Co-President for Activities and Events in the SOAS Students’ Union, on the grounds of discrimination surrounding Haydar’s handling of their Diwali event.
The Desi Society and the Hindu society scheduled their joint Diyaa Night event for Friday 21 October to celebrate Diwali and sold between 100 and 150 tickets. Natalie Cox, who would normally handle all booking requests, was out of office at this time. During her absence, room booking requests were handled by the other members of the SU team. Complications arose when both societies had reached out to Haydar via email on Tuesday 18 October, to request a lecture theatre to accommodate 100 people for their event. Haydar informed them that no rooms of that size were available at the requested time. The following Thursday, 20 October, the Musicians’ Society met with Haydar requesting to book the JCR for their Jam Session. Haydar informed them that the JCR had already been booked for a Black History Month event for the Afro-Caribbean Society and the Art & the Afrikan Mind Society. The Musicians’ Society then privately coordinated with ACS and AAM to collaborate on their events and use the JCR together.
During this time, the Desi Society contacted Sushant Singh (Co-President of Welfare and Campaigns) to request his help in booking a room for their event, and Singh provided the Desi Society with confirmation of booking the JCR. This led to a miscommunication that played out over Instagram, in which the Desi Society contacted the Musicians’ Society informing them that the Desi Society had booked the JCR and thus the Musicians’ Society would need to find an alternative location for their event. This was communicated back to Haydar, which prompted her to message the Desi Society via the SOAS SU Instagram page, ‘You haven’t booked the JCR and it’s not ok for you to lie about it and tell the musicians society that you have booked it.’
The Desi Society responded and explained that they had received a booking confirmation from Singh personally. Singh and Haydar involved the CEO of the SU, Irfan Zaman, in order to resolve the matter. It was established that there had been a clerical error regarding an out of date spreadsheet, and Zaman settled the matter by finding a smaller room for the Diwali event. All parties were informed, and all events went ahead on Friday 21 October.
The following morning, the Desi Society messaged the SOAS SU page on Instagram informing them that they were unhappy with the treatment they had faced, especially the accusations of lying. They indicated they were going to formally take this up with the SU. In a response from Haydar, via the SU Instagram account, she explained that Singh had double booked the room and that it would not have worked having both events in the same space. She went on to say: ‘It’s black history month and for you to take over the bar with a Diwali party would have been really inappropriate.’
This comment led the Desi Society to call for the dismissal of Haydar on the grounds of discrimination. In a post shared on Instagram, Zaina Iman Younis, described feeling ‘anger, frustration, sadness, and differentiated,’ and questioned ‘can we not celebrate Diwali & BHM together?’ She continued, stating ‘Our committee & it’s members value both equally, so why can’t the SOAS Co-President?’
This has resulted in an investigation of the incident, by the other two Co-Presidents of the Students’ Union, Gioia Scazza and Yara Derbas, per SU policy. The summary of the report stated: ‘it is found that the allegation of discrimination is justified based on PH’s [Parwana Haydar] language towards the Desi Society. Therefore, appropriate measures will be taken to address PH’s misconduct.’ The measures recommended in response to this matter were a ‘Formal letter of apology from PH to the SOAS Desi Society and NHSF Hindu Society’, along with Haydar attending ‘a workshop session on cultural sensitivity delivered by a member of the
Equality and Diversity Team at SOAS and a member of an anti-racist South Asian organisation in the UK.’
Following this report being published, the Desi Society shared it on their Instagram, but have since removed it, having been informed by the SU that the report is confidential. However, the Desi Society allege they were never informed the report was confidential and have since requested a redacted version of the report that was shareable, for their followers who had been following the situation evolves. According to Younis, president of the Desi Society, this request has been repeatedly denied. Additionally, Younis and the Desi society have raised concerns with the SU that the investigation report has some inaccuracies, which has resulted in the status of the investigation as being ongoing, rather than concluding with the report.
While the issues with room booking were exacerbated by Cox’s absence, the situation has brought to light some interesting aspects of the SU’s constitution. Particularly, students such as Younis have raised questions about how investigations, such as that of Haydar, can be handled impartially when enacted by coworkers.
When approached for comment, a spokesperson for the Students’ Union has stated: ‘The Students’ Union will not be commenting on an ongoing investigation.’ Haydar has been contacted for comment but has not responded.