Can a 'closed' AMU be a model for Muslims?
If there is one obscure Latin word that the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus is quite familiar with, it's 'sine die'. I think it all started when former bureaucrat Mahmoodur Rahman, after assisting Governor Jagmohan in Kashmir where combing for militants meant forcibly vacating villages, started following the same logic at the Aligarh campus. During the five-year tenure of Rahman (1995-2000), the university was closed at least thrice.
Since then, in my almost 18 years of association with the university, I have witnessed at least seven closures of the campus sine die. The incumbent Vice-Chancellor, P K Abdul Azis, has already closed the university thrice in his tumultuous tenure. The regularity of its recourse at AMU has made the administration completely oblivious to the harm it does to the students. The unfortunate regularity of sine die closures has made them a rule at the AMU campus. There is an uncritical use of this most insane and insensitive act of closing the university when in fact the administration should have kept it open and resolved the crisis as early as possible. Sine die closure is basically a failure of the administration, and it's about time they realise it.
The mainstream media too, comfortable with the narrative of two regional student groups firing at each other and thereby forcing the closure of the university, falls prey to certain essential images of a typical north Indian university where the students have easy access to weapons, where law and order remains a daily struggle and where academic pursuit is only incidental. And if it is a Muslim university, then the narrative gets aligned with a larger global narrative of certain essential images of Muslims. In the case of Aligarh Muslim University, its middle name becomes its own nemesis. "They must be like this only" is a common refrain. Well, why not? 'They' are like this everywhere in the world; why should Muslims at Aligarh be any different?
In perpetuating the 'violent' stereotype of 'those' Muslims, the media failed to ask certain crucial questions behind the disturbance of the last few days. Let's look at what actually happened that forced the closure of the university. Two senior officials of the university - both related, and one holding the position with dubious credentials - try to get another official removed from the important office he has been holding; i.e. of examinations and admissions. Now it's a known fact in Aligarh that admissions are one of the biggest ways of making quick money for senior officials. With almost 200 seats in medicine and more than 400 in engineering, not to mention hundreds others in intermediate in sciences, management, and other sought-after academic programmes, we can easily imagine the kind of money we are talking about here. Add to this mix a Vice-Chancellor, himself facing a plethora of corruption charges currently being probed by a two-member committee appointed by the HRD ministry, and you get a situation where the rot begins from the top. Justice A N Divecha and Justice B A Khan have already submitted their reports on March 21, 2011 to the HRD. They have indicted the high functionaries including the Finance Officer, the Registrar and the Vice Chancellor. The CAG report in November 2009 had already indicted them, having found huge financial irregularities. The government, reluctant to intervene in India's largest minority institution, remains callous, and the V-C is having the last laugh.
The argument is simple. If the situation was really so critical, why didn't the Vice-Chancellor cut his pleasure trip to Kerala short and take control of the situation? Why has the administration failed in checking certain rogue elements within it that threaten to subvert the functioning of the campus for their own interests? Why are students used as hired mercenaries by a few faculty members? Who will account for the students who only wanted to finish a few papers before joining their dream jobs? How can any sensible administration close the university when the exams are on?
I am, however, more interested in asking a larger question that emerges out of a crisis like this at Aligarh. Recently, the government decided to open two more campuses of the AMU at Mallapuram in Kerala and at Murshidabad in West Bengal. The decision, in the context of the sorry picture the Sachar Committee report painted of the Muslim community in India, was welcomed by the Indian Muslims as an important step in the affirmative action programme of the UPA government. AMU saw it as another triumph of its national character and hailed the decision for being in line with the university's historical role of being the intellectual and educational torchbearer of the beleaguered Muslim community. In its misplaced celebration of the decision, the university failed to ask a critically important and introspective question: can AMU really be a model for the community to be emulated at far-off centres like Mallapuram and Murshidabad?
It is a failure of the vision of community - and the university - when it laps up a decision like that. The Congress, in proudly displaying its affirmative programme for the Muslims by inaugurating branches of the university all over India, is only following the narrative of emotive issues of the Muslims which have nothing to do with the real development and upliftment of the community. Like Babari Masjid, Urdu, Waqf and Muslim Personal Law boards, AMU too is an issue which had played a largely emotive role in Muslim politics in India since the independence. In other words, both the government as well as the community feels a sense of fulfillment when AMU is given its due credence, however disputed it may be. Which is precisely why the government is more than happy in making AMU a model for the community, and not for example a more progressive and academically-oriented university like the JNU.
You will find numerous faculty and alumni who boast about AMU being a place where traditions and culture are prioritized over sound academics. It's a misplaced feudal hangover which has outlived its logic. The realities of the 21st century India are far different from what a section of the Muslim elites in the 19th century had imagined when they founded the university at Aligarh. Myopic vision, inert culture, gender insensitivities and sterile academics hardly make a good model. By making a 'closed' AMU an example for Muslim education, the government as well as the community is only interested in sustaining a mediocre academic culture for the community. The university should first clean the rot within before it even dreams of emulation.
And, to begin with, let's open the university as early as possible.
(The author is an ex-president of the AMU Students' Union)
More about Nadim Asrar
After his repeated attempts at being an academic failed, Nadim decided to be a web professional. Before joining IBNLive.com as Editor, News Features in November 2010, he worked with the timesofindia.com as Assistant News Editor for more than two years. Nadim was awarded the MacArthur Foundation fellowship for his PhD in Asian Literatures, Cultures and Media at the University of Minnesota, US. He was also awarded the Ford Foundation-IFP fellowship in 2004 for his masters in Film Studies at the University of Kansas, US. He is the author of 'The Muslim Others of Indian Cinema: Questions of Nation and Narration', published in 2010 by the Lambert Academic Publishing, Germany. Nadim studied journalism at the Aligarh Muslim University. He was elected President of the AMU Students' Union in 1999.
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