By Towfeeq Wani:
In Jamia Millia Islamia, students’ union has been banned since 2006 and alternative forms of student politics are mostly absent. However, tougher questions need to be raised.
As a certain engineering student tries to enter the main campus of Jamia Millia Islamia, he is stopped at the entrance by the security guards for identification. He searches his pockets, then his wallet and finally pushes his right hand into his bag pack in hope of pulling out his student identity card. However, unlike his fantasies, the bag is no magic satchel. He tells the guard he must have forgotten it. The guard, perhaps having already heard the excuse from so many other students, or perhaps being pissed off due to the sweltering heat of Delhi summer, scolds him. “But I am only going to the Central Canteen,” the boy pleads. The guard frowns back, clearly annoyed. Some moments later, they are shouting at each other and a brawl ensues. It is only after some other guards intervene that the matter is settled.
Being stopped at the entrance gates for identification purpose may be an alien concept for the students of many universities across India; however, as a matter of fact, most Jamiaiites (a term popularly used for students of Jamia Millia Islamia) face these ordeals on regular basis.
A Police State Or A University?
Many students feel the excessive presence of guards on the gates and inside the campus makes the university feel more of a military base. Like a state maintains that the excessive number of army men present in a conflict zone is for the safety of its people, Jamia also asserts that the guards are for maintaining discipline in the campus, which in turn, benefits the students. However, what is missing in this popular state narrative is that the excessive number of security guards leads to too much interference which in turn leads to captivity, both of physical and psychological nature. Even if the students are celebrating someone’s birthday in the Central Canteen, the guards appear on the scene to silence them, perhaps mistaking the birthday songs for the cries of rebellion and freedom. This atmosphere in the campus leads to mistrust between the management and students, which further leads to more fear, and as the cycle goes on, the fear and mistrust keep rising to new levels.
Follow Thy Neighbour
Situated in the capital of the country, the students of Jamia often visit Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, as both of them are not far away from its campus. Unlike the walls of JNU, which are filled with posters, paintings and all kinds of graffiti that reflect the highly charged political mood of the campus and its students, the walls in Jamia are clean except for the occasional warnings of surveillance.
Writing in the annual magazine of Subject Association of Department of Political Science, ‘Episteme’, Mostafa Ahangarha, a masters student in the same department, states, “Most of the things inside the campus represent a kind of fear, whether from the university management or imposed from outside. These are not like the walls of a university in the capital of the largest democracy in the world as I expected. But these walls are representing a certain enforced de-politicization of the campus.” Likewise, a student living in the Hall of Residence for Boys, student housing near the student apartments near campus, told me that there are many small posters of different students’ union organisations glued to the inside of the closets in the hostels. The state of affairs of student politics is same in the campus, hidden inside the closets, if even present at all.
Initially banned in 1996, the elections of the students’ union of Jamia Millia Islamia (JSU) were held again, nine years later, on 05th December 2005 when Mr. Mushirul Hassan was the Vice Chancellor. “The VC gave a powerful speech and promised to restore democracy in Jamia, alluding to the French Revolution many times, during the oath taking ceremony of the newly formed union,” remembers Afroz Alam, who was a student of Mass Media at the time and was later instrumental in filing many RTIs seeking information from the Jamia authorities.
The student union worked for a few months after which it was dissolved, the reasons for which are a matter of conflict. Since then, union elections never took place. A series of RTIs and a PIL filed by three students in the Delhi High Court in 2011, just after Jamia was declared a minority institution by NCMEI, the idea of having a working students’ union in Jamia was hotly debated. To end all the speculations, the then VC of Jamia, Mr. Najeeb Jung, in July 2012, ruled out any possibility of a students’ union election in the campus stating that “the subject associations of each faculty will be strengthened with greater student representation“.
The Undemocratic Adoption
Subject Associations, which are there for almost all the departments, are headed by faculty members who largely limit their functioning. Also, the elections of the Subject Associations are not democratic in the truest sense of the term, because they are ‘selected’ by faculties and their work is only to conduct seminars, functions, parties and different competitions of the departments and they hardly have an independent choice in selecting the topics of discussions or in inviting the lecturers or the panellists. Jamia maintains that the students elected in the Subject Associations are the most hardworking, intelligent and experienced students of the departments who can handle the affairs better than anyone else. However the most important question that the issue raises is that if Jamia is satisfied with undemocratically elected Subject Associations whose functioning is largely limited by the authorities, then likewise, why isn’t India satisfied with undemocratically selected ‘wise’, ‘learned’ and ‘capable’ officers who can run the country in a ‘better and civilised’ way?
Iymon Majid, a research scholar in the Department of Political Science, recounts what their professor, often used to tell them. “It’s absolutely the right thing to ban students’ politics from the campus. Educational institutions are for learning. There should be no space for either students’ politics or teachers’ politics.” Students’ politics creates chaos and indiscipline in the campus, opines the professor. However, doesn’t this argument sound the same as stated by dictators, autocrats and monarchs who feel that democracy is chaotic as majority of the people living in the country are not capable of decision making? Lead, not just follow.
Jamia Millia Islamia on an average produces about a dozen civil servants every year through its ‘Centre for Coaching and Career Planning’. Similarly, isn’t it the need of the hour to produce educated, capable and learned politicians as well? If students are isolated in their final stage of formal education from politics and anything that is of political nature, wouldn’t they lack exposure to the political arena and grow up hating politics and cursing the state of affairs of the country? Also, the dwindling number of Muslim politicians (only 22 MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha) in the parliament is already a matter of concern for a large population of the country. In spite of being declared a minority institution, Jamia Millia is not a Muslim university and has always tried to uphold its secular character; however, no one can deny the fact that it was first and foremost founded to educate and empower the largely illiterate population of the community as stated in the order of NCMEI and signed by Justice M.S.A Siddiqui, Chairperson of the Commission in February 2011, “We have no hesitation in holding that Jamia was founded by the Muslims for the benefit of the Muslims and it never lost its identity as a Muslim minority educational institution.”
The most strikingly noteworthy thing in the same is that the petition had been moved before the quasi-judicial body by Jamia Students’ Union, Jamia Old Boys’ Association, and Jamia Teachers’ Association in 2006, the same year the Students’ Union was last banned, while the elections of the Jamia Teachers’ Association continue to be held every year.
Things On The Mend
With the appointment of the new VC Prof. Talat Ahmad in 2014, who luckily is an academician, the mistrust between the management and the students is slowly fizzling out, although the Kashmir University Students’ Union (KUSU) still stands banned even though it’s the same university where Prof. Talat Ahmad served as the VC from 2011-14.
“We can only hope that no more students are suspended, bullied, mistreated or expelled for wanting a political space like so many other institutions of the country,” a student, whose name will serve no purpose here, sighs.
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