Ministry of Human Rights Parliamentary Secretary Lal Chand Malhi has termed the University of Lahore's decision to expel two students for hugging on campus an "overreaction" and asked the varsity to re-admit them.
In a letter to the University of Lahore's vice chancellor, dated March 16, Malhi said the university management had "overreacted" and expelled the students without giving them the opportunity to explain themselves or examining all the details of the incident.
He termed the university's action as "moral policing" and said deviant behaviour should instead be regulated through counselling, noting however, that such services were mostly not provided by university administrations.
Malhi said their expulsion was "certainly uncalled for and an evident case of violation of the human rights of the students".
"Both the girl and the boy did not commit such a heinous crime for which they were punished severely and expelled from the university. This would destroy their career and future education opportunities," the letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, read.
Noting that the two had proposed to each other on March 8, International Women's Day, the letter said:
"This kind of freedom is outlined in article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Pakistan is party and also under the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
It added that the very same personal freedoms of the right to marry and propose at will were also guaranteed by the relevant laws and Constitution of Pakistan.
The "extreme action" of the university had sent a critical message at the national and international levels that it could not tolerate and accept two students proposing to each other, wrote Malhi.
The secretary also noted with concern that the special disciplinary committee formed on the incident did not have any female in its composition when one of the students was female. He added that it had quoted sections of the university code relating to regular and ordinary conduct, whereas the case was a "special occasion" — as admitted in the committee meeting itself.
He stressed that the "extreme punishment" was in contravention of justice and would have "very negative repercussions for the society".
With Pakistan having a majority youth population, "it is important to be mindful of the aspirations of the youth," he wrote.
"I am very much in favour of moral character building as part of higher education curriculum and extracurricular activities but I don't think that the extreme actions like expelling the students would serve the purpose.
"I would reiterate that the decision is in contradiction of basic human rights," he said, and urged the university administration to reconsider its decision and restore the admission of the students.
Expulsion for hugging
Last week, a video of the couple, made in the University of Lahore, had gone viral in which the female student gets down on a knee and proposes to the boy. The couple can then be seen hugging and holding bouquets of flowers as onlookers cheer them on and film the scene.
The University of Lahore said the pair had acted "in violation of university rules".
It added in a statement later that they had failed to appear before a disciplinary hearing and were expelled for "serious infraction of the code of conduct".
This caused an uproar on social media, with hundreds of Twiteratti, including celebrities and politicians, terming the university's decision as "extreme" and called for its reversal.