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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 16 NOVEMBER, 2014

ALIGARH MUSLIM UNIVERSITY UNDER FIRE

AMU again in controversy


ALIGARH: A twist and a spin, and the longstanding demand of young undergraduate students of the Girls College in Aligarh became a ‘national controversy”. And no one was more angry than the students who marched in protest against the media reportage that in their view sought to project the Aligarh Muslim University as regressive, backward, and fundamentalist.

A visit to AMU immediately brings out the disconnect, and the strong anger with which the University has reacted to aggressive media coverage of an incident that while making headlines in Delhi is seen as ‘inconsequential’ here. It all began when the Vice Chancellor Lt General Zameeruddin Shah was installing the students union for the Girls College and responded to a longstanding demand of the young girls for permission to use the central Maulana Azad Library. To this the retired general pointed, as have his predecessors any number of times, to the space crunch in the old library that has not been expanded for years to accommodate the rush of students but added to this argument a frivolous remark that boys would follow the girls into the library making it even more difficult for the authorities. There was mild laughter but no adverse response as it was said, according to senior faculty in the Girls College, as a clear aside, meaningless banter at the best by a general using more military than academic parlance.

The media response to this became ‘hysterical’ with the Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani joining in by criticising this “insult to our daughters.” The media bashing of AMU began at different levels leading to vocal anger and resentment in the campus. The VC was in Lucknow when the students unions and teachers started taking out processions not in his support as much as to defend the ‘attack’ on AMU, with student leaders urging the media to desist from this blackballing the university, and describing it as regressive and backward.

This writer sensed the anger in the University with students, always having a traditionally adversarial relationship with successive Vice Chancellors maintaining that the media attack was deliberate, orchestrated and totally uncalled for. In fact a statement issued by the students unions that incidentally demonstrates the larger viewpoint of students best when it makes the following three points: “The AMU Students Union and Women’s College strongly condemns the malicious and defamatory campaign of the national media on the issue of access to Maulana Azad library for the female students of the university. We strongly express our anger against the manner in which the media passed sweeping statements and stereotyped one of the most historical and progressive universities of India. We would also like to express our concern against the manner in which a few media outlets presented the entire issue in a communal colour.”

Second quote and rather important because of the complete distortion of facts outside” “the female PG students, research scholars and students of various professional courses are provided unrestricted entry to the Maulana Azad library. It is only the students of the women’s college who are not members of the main library as they are an independent entity with library facilities of their own. The demand for upgradation of its facilities we have all taken up and we demand.

And the third quote, again very relevant: “we also condemn the irresponsible and careless remarks of the Vice Chancellor. We would like to reiterate that the VC should stop making statements unbecoming of his stature and should ensure that the grievances and problems of AMU particularly those of the Women’s College are addressed immediately.”

The students have also urged the HRD Minister that is she is so concerned about the “daughters” she should sanction funds for the upgradation of the Womens College library as well. And roll back the massive fee hike.

The VC while speaking to The Citizen insisted that he had just used a “simile” and had definitely not tried to berate the girls. He said that since these had become controversial he had withdrawn it, but the issue of the space crunch in the main library continued and needed to be resolved with funds so that it could be expanded to cope with the demands.It was built to cater to 7000 odds students whose numbers have now increased to 28,000 with no significant expansion in library facilities.

Womens College Principal Naima Khatoon Gulrez told this scribe that the undergraduate girls could requisition the books and did so often. And the only reason why the undergraduate girls were not allowed was because of the space situation, and the fact that they had their own “well stocked” library. Incidentally only 21 books had been requisitioned in the past one year by the young girl students.

Vice Chancellor Shah has written to the HRD ministry stating the facts and making it clear that his remarks were not intended to be derogatory to women. Students and faculty while speaking of other limitations were all agreed that the general could not be faulted for supporting and encouraging girl students. An indoor swimming pool is one of the many facilities for the girls under construction, who use the main pool but with different timings as per the request of parents and guardians.

The students gathered at the installation ceremony of the union had surrounded the Vice Chancellor demanding that the Times of India be banned from the campus. The VC instead of rejecting the demand, supported vociferously by all at the meeting, agreed thereby landing the university in another controversy.

To this writer the VC is progressive, forward looking but too much a military man to handle academic issues with aplomb. The military humour landed him in trouble outside---and not inside-- the campus to begin with, and the black and white approach has now led him to tamper with the media to shoot the messenger albeit on popular demand. AMU has always been a political hotbed of factionalism, with mediocrity trying to dominate, and thereby Vice Chancellors without academic experience are unable to deal with the complexities built into the institution. General Zameeruddin Shah is no exception, and while for him AMU has become a “mission” he is unable to translate passion into action, appearing now a little out of his depth but yet determined to take opposition head on.

He has revived the students union,expelled several students, and in the process probably gained more enemies than friends. He is clearly not anti-women, did not intend the ill conceived remarks as an insult, believes in womens equality with his daughters being working women and his wife under right wing attack for wearing her hair short, but while an affable general is clearly flapping to keep his head above AMU waters. More so, as the current HRD ministry has made it clear that it is not going to support the university authorities and would like it to be divested of its minority character by ensuring one entrance examination for all central universities.

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