For Books and Other loves that set us free – Rukmini Sen

Unions back VC

It was meant to be a simple demand by the undergraduate girl students of Abdullah College. They wanted access to the Maulana Azad Library of Aligarh Muslim University. This demand has been there for some years now.

The demand, however, has not been addressed by many Vice Chancellors of Aligarh Muslim University. The reason given is lack of space, but somehow has been often stated with sexist remarks

The sexist remark this year by the present Vice Chancellor Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Zameer Uddin Shah at first infuriated the girl students and the Progressive Professors of AMU. However, later the student unions came to their VC’s rescue and protected him from the media onslaught. The students of AMU – the progressives, the right wing Muslim students, some of the other right wing Muslim groups and the fence sitters aligned with their VC against what they viewed as conservative right wing ‘Hindutva’ forces.

Why did the assertive Undergraduate students of AMU shy away from Media suddenly? Why did they support their Vice Chancellor ‘at least’ publicly the moment the HRD Minister spoke in their support?

I found some of my answers in an opinion piece yesterday on Hillele.org.. I found the piece anti-woman and offensive but nevertheless insightful. The article asserted that the undergraduate girl students should protect AMU from the Corporate Media and its right wing agenda of tarnishing AMU’s image. It further said that the AMU undergraduate girls must not forget that by escalating their demand for Library outside AMU they are encouraging the Right Wing Hindutva Forces to interfere in AMU’s matters.

The two things that are clear to me are –
– the undergrad girl students of AMU are being told to back off from their rights by many insiders. This a very conservative approach to fight the conservatives on the other side.
– The concern that AMU has always been under the scanner of the Hindutva forces can’t be ruled out. It is historically and politically true that AMU defies the stereotype of uneducated Indian Muslim strongly. AMU largely shakes puerile generalizations of the Muslim Community.

One can not miss the obvious. Right Wing Religious and political groups always enable/encourage/cause the growth of their opposition Right wing religious and political groups. The moment HRD Minister Smruti Irani spoke against the Vice Chancellor of AMU most students of AMU decided to support their Vice Chancellor. I could not help but notice how the fear of Hindutva and the fear of Islamic fundamentalism has encouraged the activities of both in this case?

VC Father

Why did the student bodies in AMU think that the Media has been unfair to AMU?

AMU was reported as the bastion of conservative Muslims by the corporate Media. AMU has been accused of gender discrimination in general and not only in the context of the Library, which is the bone of contention. Indian Media at large has made it an issue of ‘Muslim girls’ being treated unequally and unfairly by a ‘Muslim’ institution and not any institution. University VC’s sexist remark has been exaggerated to make the generalization that the Muslim community is gender insensitive. Hindutva forces have found multiple reasons to attack the Muslim community yet again and this time under the garb of being progressive and women friendly.

Maulana azad library
Maulana Azad library

It is about time we gauge the Complexity of the politics that AMU is facing vis a vis their undergraduate Girl Students and also vis a vis an HRD Ministry which is promoting Right Wing Hindutva education today.

True or False?

– AMU has been accused of discrimination today by their Girl Students and some progressive Professors. – True
– Vice Chancellor of AMU made a sexist and discriminatory remark when he said “if girls are allowed in the library, four times more boys will flock to the library.This is not an issue of discipline but of space” – True
– AMU will have to prove their VC is not sexist. – True
– Undergraduate Girl Students have a good Library of their own in Abdullah Women’s College, AMU- True
– The Maulana Azad Library in the main campus of AMU is one of the finest in the entire Asia- True
-The Post graduate Women students and the girls in professional courses have access to The Maulana Azad Library like the boys – True
– The Undergraduate students of Abdullah Women’s College, AMU don’t have access to The Maulana Azad Library – True
– The Undergraduate male students have access to The Maulana Azad Library- True
– AMU was created to impart progressive and modern education to Boys in 1920- True
– Abdullah Women’s College that was started as a girls school in 1906 became a college in 1936 recognized as a part of the AMU – True
– Students of Abdullah Women’s College are bona fide students of AMU like students of other constituent colleges of AMU (Tibiya College, Engineering College, Medical College etc.) – True
– The Vice Chancellor of AMU will have to prove that he is carrying the legacy of Sir Syed, the Founder of Aligarh Muslim University who had created an exemplary and brave institution for progressive and new education. – True
-The allegation that AMU is a conservative educational body is a Hindu Right Wing propaganda – True
– AMU like most respected Universities has a good mix of Progressive and not so Progressive educators- True
– Students of all religions study in AMU – True
– Indian Media is Corporate Media- True
– What it cares for most is its TRP and TAM ratings. They run on the money of businessmen and many editorial decisions are taken on the lines of the sponsors- True
– The Corporate media in India is Pro-Right Wing – True
– The Hindu Right Wing and the Muslim Right Wing are anti- woman and slow on challenging patriarchal traditions and discourses. – True
– Most Pro-people protests are anti- status quo. – True
– Most big and small Pro-Women and thus Pro-people protests have been seen as either anti-religion, anti-community or anti-national depending on the national and international politics of the time. – True

Introspection-

All social /educational institutions suffer from patriarchal biases, not just AMU. Rules for late night outings, curfew time etc continue to be different for the two sexes including in DU and IITs. Are we, and the MHRD, open to examining all these biases and doing away with them?

Evolution-

The undergraduate girl Students of AMU have asked for access in Maulana Azad Library at AMU. It has been a consistent and very persuasive demand. If space is indeed a problem can the VC divide and categorise the days of admission to Library? May be Undergraduate boys and girls can attend them on same days! Post Graduates and Professional students can on certain days! or may be admission can be divided by time?!

Aligarh Muslim University has always been viewed by the world of intellectuals as a Modern and innovative institution. The Vice Chancellor may want to ask some professional planners to plan more accessibility for undergraduate Girl Students, the third sex students and anyone and everyone who studies in AMU.

In the true spirit of Sir Syed’s modern education may be the VC should speak with the Abdullah Girls students and plan with them how the Maulana Azad Library can be accessed better by them.

There may be space and administrative challenges in making Maulana Azad library accessible to the Undergraduate Girl students but the fact that the Vice chancellor of AMU made a misogynist remark can’t be overlooked. He is viewed by his students as a more or less democratic VC. He is more popular than his predecessor but he passed his medal to the Hindutva and Muslim fundamentalist groups way too easily. And he didn’t empower the voice of his girl students!

Is the Woman voice a voice at all? From Love of Books to love of people-

Kiss safe 2

The Right Wing Hindutva forces who have come to rescue the Muslim Girl Students should rescue themselves to begin with.

These are the same people who don’t verbalise their men marrying out of community. Good for them! but they infantalize the Hindu Women with terms and concepts like Love Jehad.

Why doesn’t Durga Vahini or VHP or RSS come up with terms that explain the process of Hindu men being taken by women of other community? Well, isn’t the reason patriarchy? Men can never be TAKEN!

Men are the supposed natural LEADERS! The supposed Hunters! Men are the HEADs of the patriarchal,feudal,conservative families of most religions and communities. Women have been viewed as people who can easily be moved around from one family to another.

It is the woman who is TAKEN. It is the woman who adapts. It is the girl students who don’t get access to the Library because the same age boy may follow them to the Library.

The traditional narratives all across the world encourage the idea that women must adapt for the supposed benefit of all. Our patriarchal traditions either view a woman as MAYA who entices the men or as a child like, impressionable and naive virgin who can be CORRUPTED and INFLUENCED. And thus she must be protected by the men of her clan. It is the belief that a woman’s destiny is to be decided by her clan, her caste, her religion etc that Love Jehad propaganda is easily bought by people.

Love will always break the artificial barriers of religion, caste, creed and gender. Books will be read with or without libraries. Change is inevitable. Struggles of visibility, access to institutions, religious places, jobs, social support for child care can’t end because we are feeling threatened with the powers of the conservatives. Fight for gender equality has always been very complex. We have often been asked to choose between our rights as individuals/people and the ‘safety’ of our cultural/religious/community. We are expected to be aware of the anxiety and safety of the people/communities we live with. Will we have to choose the safety of one over the other? or can safety of a community be restored better if oppressive/debilitating traditions are given up for the benefit of gender equality and equal accessibility of resources?

A penny for your thought Rashtriya Sevak Sangh! A Penny for your thought Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University!

The fight for space to love and the space to study has only begun. For all good things in life…for Love and for the love of books… for women of all communities…the march has only begun!

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3 thoughts on “For Books and Other loves that set us free – Rukmini Sen

  1. Very well written. If it is just a question of space it can be solved easily. Find out the number if persons that the library can accommodate. Then install an automatic counter at the entrance. When someone enters thro IN gate the counter adds and when someone comes out of EXIT gate the counter subtracts. When the counter reaches max the, the IN gate gets automatically locked, anyone wanting to enter waits for someone to come out. Simple solution. Let’s stop making e every thing into a gender issue. Grow up Indians, we who have the maximum and best software professionals can’t find a solution to a simple problem?

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