“The issue is not of discipline, but of space. Our library is packed,” the VC said, justifying why the girls were not allowed membership.
Women’s College principal Naima Gulrez, echoed the VC’s views. Addressing the audience on Monday during the oath-taking ceremony of the new students’ union, she said, “We understand the demand for access to the library. But have you girls ever seen the library? It is jam-packed with boys. If girls too were to be present in it, the discipline issue might crop up.”
Students of the Women’s College are not allowed membership of the Maulana Azad Library, reportedly better stocked than the Women’s College library. Several previous students’ unions, too, had demanded access to the famed Maulana Azad Library, located within AMU and 3 km from the Women’s College.
Gulfiza Khan, president of the Women’s College students’ union, said, “We are students of Aligarh Muslim University. We, too, should have the benefit of accessing the famous Maulana Azad Library. The library in the Women’s College is not enough. If space is a problem, we can just issue books and not sit in the library.”
She asserted that access to a good library was necessary for the all-round development of students, without discrimination between boys and girls.
Khan also mentioned other demands, including a visitor’s room, proper classrooms, clean drinking water, availability of ambulance and doctor on campus, coaching for the civil services and hygiene.
Vice-president of the union, Noorain Batool, and secretary Afra Khanam also emphasized the need for access to the Maulana Azad Library.
The Women’s College was established in 1906 and the Maulana Azad Library was set up decades later. Students of the Women’s College were never given membership of the library, which can seat 1,300 readers at a time. The library also has 12 seats reserved for women students of AMU.
Librarian Amjad Ali of the Maulana Azad Library said, “If the Women’s College library demands books, we send them instantly. The purpose is solved without the students coming here.”
Shadab Bano, assistant professor of History at the Women’s College, said, “The discipline issue can be tackled only if women are not in a minority in the library, which is usually packed with male students. And also, it is the responsibility of the university to assure the safety and protection of women.”
In a blog on a TV news channel, an alumna of the Women’s College had written in 2011: “The first time I stepped into the Maulana Azad Library, I was awed by its grandeur. More than that, I felt frustration at not being able to reach out to those shelves, browse through books and borrow a tiny bit of that wealth. It is time that the university stops infantilizing and discriminating against its female students, and starts treating them with equal dignity and respect.”
Another Women’s College alumna, Aliya Khan, now pursuing post-graduation in AMU, expressed surprise on being told what had happened during the day. “The problem is still the same. In my time in 2010, the teachers told us that we will issue books for you in our name, so you will not have to go there.”
It is really quite retrograde that girls should be disallowed from using the general library at a university on the grounds that their presence will lead to undue attention from male students. This logic is of a piece with the argument that women should not wear ‘provocative’ clothes if they do not want to be molested or raped. If the fear is that male students will behave in an unseemly fashion, why should girls be denied access to the best library? We hope that better sense will prevail and the vice-chancellor will realise that such a ban is not keeping with modern values.
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