I have a totally mixed reaction to the media’s alleged attempt to defame my Alma Mater, my work place, the Aligarh Muslim University, and the AMU “fraternity’s” reaction to the media with an unusual solidarity across gender and administrative borders. As the popular media is busy launching culturally defamatory ballistic missiles in a world already rife with Muslimophobia (yes, I avoided using the term Islamphobia on purpose) at the Aligarh Muslim University, where women are invariably imagined burqa-clad, with eyes downcast, and self-worth tied to some abstract idea of modesty kept under vigilant control by a patriarchal conservative administration, the AMU brethren, and, yes, with them a considerable number of sisters, are busy launching ballistics of minority-oriented save-our-souls as well as identity.
This cacophony is creating a chaotic pressure on people like me to choose sides: “you are either with us or with them”. Not that if I foolishly bat my eyelids and keep looking on and stay mute, I would be hanged. It is rather for speaking out that one may invite trouble. But acting in concert has never been easy for me. Identity for me is not just a matter of being identical. As a stray case, I would like to say in so many words that I am fundamentally noncommittal.
Let me share with you, if you allow me (and if you don’t, you may spare yourself the inconvenience of reading a single word more) the onto-genesis of this strange reaction.
It was more than decade ago that I sat in the Mualana Azad Library as a student and studied for hours for examinations. As a regular, I must say that not even once anyone ever asked me to go out of the library. Even now, I believe that no one ever thinks of preventing female students from entering the Library premises. On the other hand, if I say my ritualistic visit to the library did no harm to me whatsoever, I would be wrong.
When I noticed that students jeered at girls present in the library for their sartorial choices or simply for their being oblivious to their surrounding, I knew, I might not have been lucky to have escaped such attention. Prior to my postgraduate status, I was in the Women’s College and I remember that I had solicited help from a distant male acquaintance to get a book on education not available in the Women’s College library. It is strange that I did not question being at the mercy of a male acquaintance to get a book from the Maulana Azad Library.
Not too long ago, in the online journal section, I asked the lab in-charge if I could visit again in the evening to download a few articles I needed the same day. I was politely told that my hostel outing time would have ended in the evening. It was obvious that, being taken as a resident student, I was informed about the hostel rules girls are supposed to abide by.
Notwithstanding such events, I must put on record that the media and the HRD ministry both are trying to do great harm to the image of the AMU by blowing the matter out of proportion. An impression is created as if women are not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum of AMU, the Maulana Azad library, under any circumstances. Women do enter and study in the library and if hungry, they can go and relish the chaat and beverages available on the northern side of the library. So what if they have to be persistent and be wiser in their folly.
So, evidently, when the students cry foul at the biased media coverage of their beloved university and their inviolable culture, I think, they are justified. But, at the same time, if they do not allow themselves a moment of genuine introspection, they are not. Would they come forward with an argument that boys are mature and focused enough to mind their studies, even when the girls from Indra Gandhi Hall, Sarojini Naidu Hall, Abdullah Hall, or any other hostel, or college are present in the library? Why is it not an issue when around 2700 women from various Faculties, Departments and Colleges other than Abdullah Hall have access to the library on a regular basis? Why is there such a hullabaloo about Women’s College girls ever having actual access to the Maulana Azad Library?
Psychologically speaking, is it because of some canonically inherent notion held at an unconscious level that they are confined, and therefore, are more distractive. Or is it an acceptance of defeat that till today our society could not produce mature students who can maintain the decorum of a shrine of learning and behave suitably? An acceptance of this awful reality may sound much better, if it is not uttered in the tone of resignation. Since I did not witness it all first hand, I think what reaches us filtered through media and word of mouth may be a case of Chinese whisper. I would never be a witness to the nuances of the comments allegedly made by persons of consequence and thus would never know how and why and what was exactly said to open this Pandora ’s Box.
There is also another concern that I have. I think that the strong opposition to the very idea of girls’ presence in a shared common space, from a large section of boys amounts to the level of reaction humans would have to the news of a possible arrival of some alien form, invading into their earthly domain, they think, they have the privilege to control.
Does it really pluck a raw nerve in the young patriarchal agents? Doesn’t the social media prove that, when on the defensive, our students may cross all the limits and shred the semblance of culture and education, they are so proud of, into small pieces, well beyond recognition? Or are the girls only responsible or mere repository of the culture, honour and respect? Let boys be boys and let them deal with their opponents by hurling at them the choicest expletives.
It wouldn’t be out of place if I recall that it was not more than twenty days ago, when I was told in the University Badminton Club that girls (a word which implies immaturity, stupidity etc ) are not allowed to use the premises for playing badminton. Persistent as I remained with total indifference and disregard to the edict of an unknown origin, I was able to keep the detractor at bay. Admirable though it may sound to some, my act of defiance would evoke a negative reaction from others. I still don’t know if it was my safety or others that the coach was concerned about. All I could see that he somehow looked mortified when I used the badminton court for what it is meant: playing badminton.
Again a similar question keeps floating into my head: is it girls’ safety, security and immaculateness that so many of us are concerned about? Isn’t it better to leave the issue of safety to their respective administration which can decide how they would manage safe conveyance, given that there is three kilometres distance from the Women’s College and the MA Library?
Are they going to cycle chaperoned by wardens and proctorial bulls? Or they can be left to commute on their own to reach the library and breathe in the smell of the books, soak in the grandeur of the beautiful structure of the library, drink from the elixir of knowledge flowing there, and pick their pearls of wisdom by making their own mistakes in this equal opportunity seat of learning?