Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is one of the most prominent universities in India and is known as an institution of repute at the international level, particularly in the African and Gulf countries. It is also a very prestigious university among the Muslim community, and they prefer to pursue higher education here as the culture attracts them.
Islam is the second-largest religion in the world founded on the ideals of equality and egalitarianism. However, in AMU, even though most of the population practices Islam, the egalitarian principle still struggles to make its existence felt. On my recent visit to AMU for a seminar, I was out for a campus tour with my friends.
The night was falling fast, and to my surprise, I found women missing on campus. This surprise came to me in reference to the freedom and nightlife culture, that I witnessed at Jawaharlal Nehru University, which has become a part of my life too. The campus is spectacular and gets brighter post-dusk.
The dhabas, student union office, canteens, bus stops, library side, are lively till midnight, but something in AMU was resisting. Later, I discovered that there is a timing set for hostels, and women could not be out after that period of time, adherence to their way of culture, the tehzeeb (Urdu for being well-mannered) or sanskriti (Hindi for sanctioned tradition and custom).
“Education is the most powerful weapon which one could use to change the world and unlock the freedom,” is a famous maxim by Nelson Mandela. It is a crucial determinant in the struggle for gender equality and empowerment. In India, the patriarchal system adversely affects the society that also reflects in the education system. It also reflects in our everyday behaviour and experiences, like restricting hostel timings would earn respect for one’s culture.
Even though women have been victimised for ages, many a time, women seem to favour and perpetuate the same patriarchal system and accept that men have the right to do certain things as they are correct in their terms. Most of the time, this self-developed inferiority complex among women has widened the gender gap massively. So much so that their rights-based struggle now seems to be never-ending.
AMU is just an example of such extensive practices across many institutional setups, with normalised victimisation of women, declaring themselves as a ‘secular, equal, and democratic space.’
Perhaps, it is the student-led struggle and leftist organisations in institutions like JNU, TISS, etc. that have provided an equal space for everyone. But even then, people, generally those who are not part of these institutions, believe that it is in contradiction to Indian culture.
My questions to such narrow-minded people are that why is it that only women have to shoulder the responsibility to respect culture? Why is such respect exacted through forceful tactics? Why should women be the only ones to respect our social values? Is it women’s responsibility to maintain the hierarchy and carry collective honour on their shoulders? Have men all the freedom and all the luxury to enjoy?
These questions perturb and dissuade women from accessing their rights and liberties. Women have been oppressed through ages, and even today, universities like AMU, DU, JMI, BHU, IIMC, etc. carry forward this legacy. In fact, men should think about this and come speak out for women’s freedom and stand with women.
It is very natural for Muslim men in a Muslim university, to be aware of a situation and not to question it. But for an odd-one-out, it is an entirely different picture and would effectively raise questions! One of those, who himself was a student at AMU, found it normal, when asked and started defending the administrative regulations.
My concern is at least take consent, or give women some option to have the freedom to make their own choices. The Quran makes it clear that men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah, but a hierarchy set by humans has put women at the receiving end of injustice.
Ironically, the majority of people in AMU practice Islam, and contradicting their religion, their campus preaches against egalitarian principles. So everyone has to follow tehzeeb, but it is only the man who can experience it after the sunsets.
A university should be the place where everyone obtains the right to attain knowledge, empower themselves, and practice their freedoms and choices equally. The need is to respect women’s presence everywhere and anywhere. They should never feel that the culture they follow or respect by choice is trying to kill their rights and freedom.
One thing I wish to say directly to women out there: the world is cruel as of now, no one is going to come out for you, and you will have to demand your place, your rights, and your freedom, yourself. Do not stop, ever. Just remember, patriarchy has already been challenged long back, by your decision to get educated. You need to keep striving for it. I hope one day, the struggle comes to an end, where the world settles for your recognition, your choices, and your well-deserved space.