More than 130 years ago in 1884, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan established the Aligarh Muslim University Students Union (AMUSU). It was then called the Siddon’s Union Club. The purpose clearly was to process modern education and scientific ideas in the veins of young students.
Aligarh Muslim University was formed on the lines of the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. The infrastructure is said to be inspired by the two great British universities. AMU can boast of the finest facilities. Whether it be the accommodation facilities or the inspiring faculty. Each residence hall has a common room and hostel committees that cater to the basic need of students at a very basic level.
The platform of AMUSU was created to create leaders for the Muslims and provide minimum support to the community. It was a need of the times. As education and leadership are qualities which are not mutually exclusive, the role of AMUSU is of utmost importance. “Even today, when the minority community lacks leadership, AMUSU can come to the rescue,” says Mannan Wani, a research scholar studying at AMU.
The union largely focuses on issues of food, dining and attendance within the University. Unlike other campuses, AMU doesn’t have students organisations affiliated to political parties. Neither does any political party support the candidates. Elections in AMU are not fought on ideological lines. The void gets filled by the parasite of regionalism and lobbies. The lobbyists define the agendas of campaigning issues for elections, keeping personal interests in mind. They have a strong and influential hold on campus politics.
When Mudassir Yousuf, a Kashmiri student was expelled for his Facebook comment on the Uri attack, none of the candidates dared to challenge the authoritarian decision of the Vice-Chancellor. None of the candidates condemned the suspension. Arsalan Mohammad, a student of Mass Communication, compared Yousuf’s expulsion to the Rohit Vemula incident. He said, “The only difference is that one committed suicide while the other is still alive.” He also termed the students union as “delicate” and “fragile”.
Irrespective of the presence of a union, the University has always raised its voice for the state of Kashmir and the minority community. People don’t realise how much it has cost the University. Mubeen Ahmed, a student had to spend more than a decade in jail after he was arrested in 2000 for having links with the ISI. He was released in 2014 after being declared innocent by the court.
In the year 2000, when the students union was restored, it never managed to become a stable unit. The election here happens every alternate year and it merely functions for six to eight months. Even such a serious issue of not having a union every year does not become a part of the agenda during campaigning. In the past one year, three students from AMU have been murdered inside the campus. Surprisingly, even the issue of security doesn’t find its place in manifestos of the candidates. Apart from this, talking about Palestine and Egypt in the campus is taboo as well.
Electoral speeches of the candidates are rhetorical in nature. Most of the time is spent in accusing the Vice-Chancellor and administration for everything. The remaining part of their speeches is used to target the opposition and remind the voters of the opposition’s previous allegations of corruption. Urdu poetry is used to add flavour.
MBA student Hiba Kakul believes that once the union starts functioning, the national and local issues will be fluently addressed.
In the early 20th century, the University was deeply committed towards empowerment of women. The Women’s College was founded in 1906 as a small school. But, the AMU of the 21st century is still patriarchal in nature. Asma Jawed was the first woman to stand up for the post of the president in the AMUSU in 2011. The fact that a separate union exists for the Women’s College shows how sexist it is as an institution. Kehkashan Khanam who had the courage this year to contest for the chair of vice-president lost the elections. Beside, this was the first time that 3 female candidates successfully managed to occupy three seats in the cabinet. The fact that it’s taken so long for even this much female representation shows that it is justified to describe the institution as patriarchal.
The results have been declared and the union is gearing up for its performance. It’ll be interesting to see if the increase in women representation results in the much required structural and systemic changes in both the union and the University.