By Hiba Kakul:
The founder of Aligarh Muslim University, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, envisioned educating both men and women who would lead the Muslim community to enlightenment, liberation and progress through this institution. In this light, AMU appears to be a very reformed and gender-just institute. But dig a bit deep and you will realize that it is an ideal place to preach conservatism under the shiny cloak of promoting customs and traditions.
Women leaders here have to fight not only the complacent administration, but also many stereotypes and the conservative call to focus on only studies and not contest in the students’ body polls. Women leaders have played an insignificant role in the AMU’s ‘glorious’ students’ politics as AMUSU has never seen a Woman President in its history of 80 years, moreover, a meager token participation of women is seen in the other posts as well. What could be the reason behind such insignificant participation of women in student politics? Especially in a university that stands amongst the top institutes of the country!
Most positions of power have always been held by men in this University, and the gender bias is clear. The strong opposition to women’s participation in student politics by a large section of men can be compared to how humans might react to the news of a possible invasion by some aliens into their lands. The obvious response from those men who feel threatened is a sort of ‘cultural imperialism’, making it easier for them to defend their territory. They make the customs here, and enforce them in the guise of Islam and the need for guarding women. According to them, the purpose of such a tradition of keeping women out of power is to ‘protect’ them from rape-culture.
My dear caring brothers, denying political power and equal representation to women is not much different from physically violating them.
When asked about her struggle while contesting for one of the ten seats of cabinet ship in AMUSU, Kehkashan Khan, a fellow student, got this reply – “Aapke bhai hain to ye sab karne ke liye, behno ko is sab mein aakr takleef lene ki kya zaroorat. Kahan kahan jaengi, kya kya karlengi?” (You have your brothers to do all of this for you, why do sisters need to take the trouble? Where would you run around? What all would you be able to do?). Sweet words that reek of sheer sexism. The oh-so-familiar ‘benevolent’ face of patriarchy.
Isn’t education supposed to equip women with the knowledge, awareness and skills to make informed decisions on their own, and not rely on their so-called ‘protectors’? Is it actually the girls’ safety they are so concerned about, or is it that the intervention of women would corrode the political game plans of these “regional” leaders in the university? Or is it about the alarming danger they see in women leaders? Does the strong will and determination make them nervous? Or let’s just say it’s a jackpot for the young politicians when the female vote bank of around 4000 is segregated from the main union by the administration.
The historical record of Islam shows that many distinguished women converted to Islam prior to their husband, which is a clear demonstration of Islam’s recognition of their conscience and capacity for independent action. Moreover, in Islam many women such as Queen of Sheba, and Aisha Abu Bakr (R.A.) held political powers independently and even with their husbands.
The above facts clearly show that the fundamentalists here try to instill fear in women by presenting to them an androcentric and misogynist interpretation of texts. And those who respond to the hierarchical norms and basic gender inequality are dismissed and shamed by being called a menace for the “tehzeeb” of the idara.
Women are the victims of the patriarchal culture, but they are its carriers too. We have often let men rule over us. We have given these benevolent sexists the authority to threaten us in the name of religion, to manipulate us by infusing in us the fear of being apostate on questioning problematic rituals. And we women judge and make each other a subject of criticism for having strayed from the tradition designed by the “cultured folks”.
You could either continue to enjoy your suppers of pseudo-aristocracy in the little domains monitored by some conservative guards and let the grey matter of your brains be tamed within the constraints of negligence and blind-faith, or stand against the agents of patriarchy and take control of areas you’ve been unfairly denied access to.
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