The Aligarh Muslim University Students Union (AMUSU) was scheduled to organise an ‘All India Students’ Leader Meet’ on February 18, 2017 in the Kennedy Auditorium. For this meet, some student activists and leaders had been invited to speak. This event is usually hosted every year by AMUSU to call student leaders from various parts of the country to deliberate and discuss the issues concerning the student community.
This year, however, the scheduled meet was postponed by AMUSU because of a controversy which arose in the AMU campus. There has been much furore especially on social media about the reasons which led to postponing of the proposed meet. Here is the series of events that led to the controversy:
1. The whole controversy started when AMU students noticed that six students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, had been invited to speak in the Leader Meet. The majority of the students were aghast at the decision of AMUSU to invite only a particular section of student leaders from a single institution with a particular ideological lineage. This, according to them, was neither inclusive nor representative of all the students in the country. Most students protested through social media, and some student-groups at AMU called the AMUSU president and apprised him about the anger in the student community regarding the scheduled meet.
2. What added fuel to the fire was a Facebook post by Shehla Rashid in which she tried to address the issue of what constitutes hate speech. In her post, however, she used ‘derogatory’ and ‘blasphemous’ terminology for Prophet Muhammad. This severely offended the students of AMU. Students started a campaign to not allow any such speakers to come to AMU.
3. One of the female office bearers of AMUSU, Ghazala Ahmad, went a step further and lodged an FIR against Shehla Rashid for her inappropriate and objectionable words against the Prophet and against other religions. This sparked a new controversy among the already-divided students at AMU and JNU.
In response to the popular sentiment at AMU, the Students’ Union postponed the programme. The AMUSU was highly appreciated by the AMU fraternity for its decision to cancel the ‘Students’ Leader Meet’. However, a few of AMU’s well-wishers have been misinformed about the entire episode. Many persons from JNU and elsewhere have started a gross ‘misinformation’ campaign to defame AMU, something that is pretty common anyway.
The Preamble of the AMUSU clearly states that the AMUSU is a democratic body of students and it respects the views of the majority of the students. When the majority of the students opposed a proposed event, it was cancelled, and rightly so. This is clearly a democratic method which was practised.
However, the discourse then veered into a completely different direction. People who were demanding the cancellation of Shehla Rashid’s visit to AMU started being labelled “mazhab ke thekedaar (contractors of religion)”, “patriarchs“, generally by those who call themselves the ‘champions of liberalism’. The speakers other than Shehla who were scheduled to speak also were silent during that time. A campaign against their colleague was being run by students of AMU. However, they were monitoring the situation online, besides also being in regular touch with the organisers.
After the AMUSU cancelled the meet, they also took to social media expressing their support for Shehla, while simultaneously ‘demonising’ the students who had opposed the entry of Shehla in the AMU campus. Like Shehla, they also resorted to ‘name-calling’ and levelled baseless allegations about those who were opposing the event and its participants.
It is difficult to understand that why these so-called ‘champions of freedom of expression and democracy’ in Delhi and elsewhere were most pained when they noticed AMU students resorting to these practices. Isn’t this sheer hypocrisy? The Delhi-based ‘defenders of freedom and liberty’ should have respected the majority viewpoint of the AMU students.
The fact is that AMU students unanimously rejected an attempt to damage the ‘inclusive’ nature of the university. It is well-established that AMU stands for an ‘inclusive’ culture. The ‘AMU Students’ Leader Meet, therefore, should not have been used to appreciate one particular ideological lineage. There are various active unions and students’ organisations, besides the Left-leaning ones, which stand for social justice and equal opportunities for all. The AMUSU event, that attempted to ‘silence’ the others and ‘appreciate’ only a selected few, was denounced by the majority at AMU students. Hence, the AMUSU was compelled to stand by them.
The unison of the AMU fraternity on this issue and the solidarity shown by general students was a landmark step in safeguarding the sanctity of AMU. The AMU unanimously denounced those who intentionally or unintentionally wanted AMU to become a hostage to ‘redundant ideologies’ – thereby ensuring that our future leaders will take care of this issue. Like always, AMU will also continue to organise ‘Students’ Leader Meets’, which will be a representative of all and not just a few. AMUSU has now understood that student leaders do exist beyond JNU as well.
The other issue that was unanimously projected by AMU was its rejection of those who attempt ‘character assassinations’. The AMU has a cultural legacy of respect and dignity towards its Muslim roots. The persons who shower ‘abuse’ and ‘obscenities’, especially to our revered Prophet, are appreciated to stay away from AMU.
The unanimous ‘understanding’ displayed at AMU during the campaign was to stand for ‘decent language’ and an ‘appropriate choice of words’. Let the words be questioned, and not the intentions! The AMUSU’s acceptance of the popular demand of barring the visit of those with ‘questionable language’ has been widely appreciated. This has only strengthened our message of ‘respect for all’.
If these ‘champions of freedom of speech and liberalism’ have the right to protect their culture and their ideas of the university in their respective institutions, why shouldn’t this right extended to the students of AMU? Moreover, if they can defend their rights to any extent, why can’t the students of AMU do so too? People are being written off as “mazhab ke thekedaar“, because in this ‘free society’, one can only be a “liberalism ka thekedaar (a contractor of liberalism)”. What kind of ‘free speech’ is being practised where one has the ‘right to offend’ but the other does not have the ‘right to be offended’?
On Najeeb’s issue (the Muslim student who disappeared from JNU), the whole AMU fraternity in general, and AMUSU in particular, has contributed from day one, and still continues to do so. We need no one to appreciate us for this. The AMU has always been the front-runner for those whose rights are violated in any part of the world. This also makes AMU a target institution for fascist forces. Moreover, we understand too well the need of student solidarity and the need of a minimum student support programme to counter fascist forces. In the past, we have expressed these concerns both through our words and actions.
However, a mockery of the ‘idea of AMU’, in the form of messages of solidarity and support from persons who don’t want to understand the ‘idea’ itself, is something we will not entertain. Those who use terms like ‘extremists’ to describe Muslims should know that these are the terms which are used to justify the killing and maiming Muslims across the world and also to sanction their oppression. We at AMU understand these words better when they used against us. Calling AMU ‘extremist’ and ‘conservative’ is a way to create inroads into our Muslim heritage and abuse it for reasons known to everyone.
The ‘opportunists’ who had maintained silence till the event was cancelled, and are now seen issuing sermons on tolerance, freedom of expression and the need of solidarity movements, need to understand that we are well aware of the history of their ‘tolerance’ and how much they practise it when in power. Let us keep that debate for another time. And is it justified to troll the AMUSU president on his Facebook post for a simple grammatical mistake in the afternoon, and then call for solidarity in the same evening?
Some people, who have risen to fame on these ‘manufactured controversies’, seem more interested in repeating such things in order to project themselves as ‘martyrs’. They are trying to present it as a ‘AMU vs JNU’ or a ‘AMUSU vs JNUSU’ fight, which, by no means, is the truth. The AMUSU and JNUSU (or for that matter, AMU and JNU) would always stand against a common enemy and fight against the fascist forces in unison. Those who are trying to portray it as a fight can win political points by ‘making’ it so. But the reality is that they are merely trying to distract people from the principal issues, and are therefore weakening nationwide students’ movements.
However, one should not take a single individual as the sole institution on the issue of democracy. Neither should democracy be preached at and limited to a single place. Moreover, no one should take advantage of ‘victimhood’, based on brazen lies, to obfuscate facts and gain sympathy. Let’s learn to respect each other’s views and move forward with our collective struggles without making this incident an impediment – which ultimately benefits none of us!