By Riad Azam:
The Abdullah Women’s College at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is a source of endless awe and interest among the rest of the University students, and issues related to it have also sharply divided the campus into rival camps. One of the recent issues in this regard has been about the access of the Women’s College students to the Maulana Azad Library, the central library of the University. Whenever the debate regarding it crops up, grand ideological arguments are made along with unnecessary mud-slinging, and the root cause of the problem is missed – that of the issue being an administrative one and the library simply not having enough space to cater to the needs of 20,000 students on the campus.
Last November, while addressing the installation ceremony of the Women’s College Students’ Union, Vice- Chancellor Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Zameeruddin Shah remarked that, ‘there would be ten times more boys in the library’ if he allowed the students of the Women’s College access (i.e. permission to utilise the infrastructure) to the central library. It is needless to state that the remark was in poor taste and was unbecoming from the head of a prestigious educational institution such as the AMU. However, things took a complicated turn when the remark was widely reported in the national media and a barrage of unfounded, factually incorrect, sweeping statements were made against the University vis a vis granting access to the female students of the University to its central library. One media house went to the extent of reporting “Dogs and Girls not allowed access into the Maulana Azad Library”. Such unfounded reportage would only go on to further aggravate the students who felt that their alma mater was being wrongly targeted by the media because it is a minority institution. Once again an issue pertaining to granting equal benefits to the students of the Women’s College was lost amidst other unnecessary complications.
As the University was reeling from the impact of such a raging controversy, a writ petition was filed in the Allahabad High Court accusing the University of meting out discriminatory treatment to the students of the Women’s College. Responding to the petition, the University replied that from the session 2014- 15, a common identity and library card was being issued to all the students of the University through which they can issue their books from the main library. This in effect would mean that the students of the Women’s College would also be members of the main library.
Finally, on the directives of the Court which stated in clear terms that not granting access to students of a particular gender due to lack of space is tantamount to violating fundamental human rights, the University made formal arrangements for the students of the Women’s College by granting them access to the main library every Sunday from 8 AM to 11 AM.
However, the decision has only resulted in widespread animosity among the concerned students who state that the time and duration allotted to them is extremely inconvenient, and most importantly the stacks of the main library (the seven- storied high building which houses the main resources of the library) remain closed on Sundays, thus in effect the decision doing very little to alleviate the problems of the students concerned.
As the decision to include students of the Women’s College into the Maulana Azad Library is on the verge of completing a year, the mood among the concerned students regarding the issue ranges from being that of disappointment to utter disinterest. Aisha, a student of the Women’s College states that, “now the students of the Women’s College can visit the main library on any day of the week and issue books like their male counterparts. However no official notification has been made in this regard and the authorities in the Abdullah Women’s College have disseminated very little or clear information, thus the students being primarily disinterested about the issue”.
The Women’s College administration is (in)famous for its dictatorial attitudes and is hostile to the idea of women’s college students being a part of the larger stream of the University. Its apathetic attitude regarding the access of the main library for its students is only a clear pointer to the fact. Even when the Online Public Access Catalog of the main library was made available for the students of the Women’s College, the number of books issued by the students in three years (session 2012 to 2014) was just 21, because very few students of the Women’s College were aware of the fact that such a provision was in place for them.
The Abdullah Women’s College plays a pivotal role in providing for the educational needs of women from the marginalised sections. In order to further facilitate their emancipation, it is essential that the students of the Women’s College be provided with the best possible resources that is available in the University. Granting proper access to a resourceful library as the Maulana Azad Library would be one of the foremost tasks in this regard.
However, given the apathetic attitude of the Women’s College administration, it is likely that in the coming days if the trend continues the students of the Women’s College would continue feeling alienated with the larger scheme of the University and would have to make do with whatsoever meager resources they have at their disposal. This would certainly not be in the interest of the University and would stand against the Vice Chancellor’s much hyped dream of making AMU the number one University in the country by 2017.
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