Thu Feb 20, 2014


NEW DELHIIt is not a coincidence that successive governments and successive Vice Chancellors, after the supposedly temporary and regular disbanding of students unions, have not allowed these to come up in two of the largest minority educational institutions in the country, Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University.

Citing violence and anti-social behaviour on campus, the authorities, have muzzled the students democratic rights to the point where they cannot even question the caterers for poor quality food. It has become the excuse for authoritarian clampdowns with the students unable to speak freely or exercise their right to dissent.

Several faculty members supporting the students demand for the restoration of student bodies said that the targeting was prompted by security-prompted suspicion of the minority youths with a decision being taken at the centre that the students of these two large minority institutions should not be allowed the freedom that comes with unions. It might be recalled that the AMU students union in particular has been a learning ground for minority politicians, many of whom rose to be legislators and ministers in government.

The Citizen takes a look at the Jamia Millia Islamia and the AMU students search for representation. In both places the students have been demanding a students union, but have been particularly unfortunate in recent years with a bureaucrat-turned-vice chancellor in Najeeb Jung at Jamia, and a military general-turned-vice chancellor in Lt General Zameeruddin Shah in AMU preferring the whip to dialogue and the restoration of rights.

Patches of green clay, a lock, spiders and webs, and a faded poster with a stanza from Avtar Singh Pash’s poetry are all that is visible of what used to be the students union office in Jamia. The last students union was formed here in 2005 when historian Mushir ul Hasan was the Vice Chancellor, disbanded in 2006 after a violent tussle between students and the authorities, and has since never been allowed to be formed again.

Najeeb Jung who became the vice chancellor in 2009 said initially that he would investigate why the union was disbanded but went on to clamp suppressive measures on the students in Jamia. There is palpable fear in the university, with students refusing to speak on record lest they be victimised for supporting a students union. There is a complete absence of a grievance redressal mechanism in the university, with a student of sociology Riyaz (name changed) maintaining that it was “shameful to see a university born out of the nationalist struggle crushing the democratic rights of the students.”

Several petitions were filed in the court in the last few years by students of the university asking courts to intervene and look into the matter of the restoration of the union on the campus in the interest of democratic values. None of these petitions have delivered results so far but those who had filed these petitions are facing disciplinary actions by the university.

Hamid Ur Rahman , a Gold medalist undergraduate student of the political science department of the 2009-2012 batch was one of those petitioners. He is now found going from court to court fighting cases filed against him by the university.

The University administration accused him of entering the campus forcefully. According to a report in The Hindu dated Jan. 6 2013,Jamia filed an FIR (date not specified) against Hamidur Rehman, a 2012 Jamia graduate, in what appears to be an allegation of instigating a riot on campus; a criminal offense that could land him in prison.

Hamid looks at this as a high level administrative conspiracy against him and called these allegations baseless and a handiwork of the university administration to force him take back his public interest litigation filed in the High court for Student Union Elections.

While talking to The Citizen, Hamid explained, “Some corrupt administrative officials have destroyed the secular and representative spirit of JMI and infected such a prestigious varsity with the virus of nepotism. I felt that a few authoritarian and dictatorial people in the JMI administration should not take undue advantage of the students silence and play with their future with impunity. As a student of political science I realized not to be silent for once and that’s why I filed the PIL for the restoration of democracy in my campus”.

Another Student Bhavna (name changed) said, “Being denied a student union in the university is a clear violation of the broader democratic values.”

A student of the History department said, “This is sheer discrimination against the students of this university, we are not allowed to have even our parents stay in our hostel rooms for day, where else does this happen? For trivial issues we are served show cause notices, we cannot sit in the campus after six in the evening; we cannot question the canteen owner for the quality of the food.”

He said, “why is everything in minority universities looked at from the perspective of national security, are we students or terrorists? Why can’t we enjoy the same privileges which the students of the other university enjoy?”

In AMU, after several years the disbanded students union was revived im 2009 after a prolonged struggle by the students. But the new vice chancellor Lt General Shah disbanded it again shortly after he came to office last year, and since then AMU too has been without a students body. Students have been protesting but to no avail with a vigilante administration in both universities keeping a close watch on the agitating students to identify potential “troublemakers.”

Inayat Zaidi, a senior professor at the department of History in JMI, said , “Earlier I was against the student union elections in Jamia Millia Islamia because of certain anti social elements from the locality taking undue advantage of it and also because in the time of other vice chancellors there was some kind of mechanism through which grievances of the students were heard. But in the last four years, the democratic voices of the students have been completely crushed, and I now understanding the importance of a students union.” After a pause he added, “what kind of democratic values are we going to give our students if we continue in this fashion.”

Atul Anjan , a senior leader of the CPI and a firebrand student leader of during his university days said, “the recent vice chancellors appointed in the university are careerists who see progressive political Mobilization within the University as a roadblock and hindrance to their political ambitions.”

He further accused the Salman Khurshid family of unnecessarily intervening in JMI affairs saying, “Leaders like him do not want progressive Muslim leadership to emerge through democratic student movements in these universities as they will challenge their hegemony and leave them nowhere”.

In the absence of a democratic students union, the two minority institutions are being controlled by mafias. In JMI particularly the land mafia is in a dominating position, having a say in appointments and admissions according to insiders. Asked about allegations of violence and anti-social infiltration of Unions, AMU students who had earlier come to Delhi said that this was just an excuse, as the authorities could always ensure that such persons were not allowed on campus. “It is the politicians and the mafias who infiltrate the students, often with full support of the administration, and then blame us and make us pay the price for their politics.”

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