“It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that no single institution has done so much for a community as this college has done for the promotion of higher education and modern culture among the Muslims. Sir Syed was an ardent patriot and nationalist”
Aligarh Muslim University, as the name itself turns a stuff for ‘breaking news’ for most of the corporate media outlets in the country but it is always dragged in media circles for the negative reasons. Though this institution was the outcome of challenges posed by western and colonial modernity on one side and the conservative and traditional clergy class of Muslims on the other side, still people since its inception viewed this institution as a kind of stereotype through their own lenses. Mukhtar Masood, a Pakistani civil servant, in his memoir, Awaz-e-Dost, writes, “Aligarh ek chhota sa Pakistan hai, aur Pakistan ek barhaa sa Aligarh” (Aligarh is a Micro-Pakistan, and Pakistan a Macro-Aligarh). On the other hand R. C. Majumdar, in his classic text-book, Advanced History of India writes, “It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that no single institution has done so much for a community as this college has done for the promotion of higher education and modern culture among the Muslims. Sir Syed was an ardent patriot and nationalist”. These two authors if taken as a sample of two extremes make the worldview clear about AMU; which shows that how the world has seen and assessed AMU. Everyone has tried to make an assessment of this university as per his or her choice, mental setup and objectives, which are mainly political.
It’s true that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was not very passionate campaigner for the women education but it needs to be contextualized. Sir Syed did not want to efface the target group by taking up the radical issue, the way leftists and feminists do these days. Sir Syed Ahmad being pragmatic about his project of modernity was arguably living in the limitations of the 19th century wherein his target group was the Muslim population and his passion to modernise them and taking up the radical issues would have alienated his target group from him. The observers of our age looking into that past of India, may not compare him favourably with the likes of Gokhle and Ranade, or for that matter with Jyotiba Phule. But unlike Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sir Syed Ahmad was not discriminating against women in his own private domains in any glaring manner. And like any other religious community, there were/are contested visions of modernity even within the Muslims of India. But the fact of the matter is that it was Sir Syed who inspired people like Dr. Sheikh Abdullah (fondly remembered as Papa Mian) and his wife Waheed Jahan Begum to establish a Girls’ School in 1906, which went on to become the full-fledged Women’s College in 1937 and got affiliated to the Aligarh Muslim University. India is indebted to this school for producing women figures like Ms. Qurat- ul -Ain Haider, Ms. Ismat Chughtai , Mrs. Mohsina Kidwai (Spokesperson of AICC) , Mrs. Najma Heptullah ( former Vice president of BJP and current governor of Manipur) and many others . Syed Ahmad as perceived was not living a life of contradictions on the issue of women emancipation. Even though every reformer of the 19th century India had his limitations and had their projects confined to certain sections. Syed Ahmad and his enduring contribution in the form of AMU is made to carry that burden of a haunting stereotyping-which is a cause of discomfiture and concern for its alumni spread across the globe.
Take the case of the central library of AMU, Moulana Azad Library which caters needs of all the students regardless of gender. There are about 8000 boys and 3,500 girls, who are currently registered as bona fide members of the central library. The Departmental libraries, also called ‘Seminar Library’, are available for both male and female students. An Inter Library Loan Desk facility is also available through which books from the Maulana Azad Library are loaned to the college library. In addition to that the Residential Coaching Academy and its library are another co-education spot, which the mainstream media and the faultfinders of Sir Syed’s dream garden usually fail to see. What these critics never miss to see at AMU is that, the female students of affiliated undergraduate colleges are not given access to the central library of the varsity. This is true of the colleges of the Delhi University as well. There has not been so much hue and cry in the Miranda House or the Indraprastha College against their non access to the Central reference Library of the Delhi University. So is the case with the Mahila Mahavidyalaya of the BHU. The media and the so called Progressives among the AMU’s insiders however have chosen to ignore some of the better ‘gender’ provisions made and practised by the AMU. For instance, the Principal of the Women’s College of AMU is permanent member of the Executive Council, practically the highest decision making body of the university; the teachers of the AMU’s Women’s College, on seniority, do become professor, Chairperson and Dean of the Departments and Faculties of the AMU. This is unlike BHU and DU where one has to quit the services of its colleges and get recruited to the Postgraduate Departments (in the main campus) afresh, to become professor, Chairman, and Dean in the main campus. Women have served as Proctor to look after the law and order on the AMU campus. AMU’s Swimming Pool and the Horse Riding Club have very much got women members; the students of affiliated colleges are not given access to the main library of the university. The elected Women’s College Union in place —is major brick in the development of gender parity in the 142-year-old university.
There are discriminations, biases and prejudices in AMU like in any other institution, but the gender bias, if not completely absent is insignificant. But the way stereotypes are being created in the media circles need to be brought to the touchstone and to litmus test.
This is also not to suggest that gender biases are non-existent in AMU. I do reiterate, AMU campus does have its own shares of all kinds of cultural and ideological prejudices prevalent in the world outside. The AMU campus is not a segregated island. To see every issue at women’s college or female residential halls with specific motives negates the overall contribution and provisions of the women education in this university. There are discriminations, biases and prejudices in AMU like in any other institution, but the gender bias, if not completely absent is insignificant. But the way stereotypes are being created in the media circles need to be brought to the touchstone and to litmus test. There is definite need to end the disparity but claiming AMU to be at zero is injustice to this Mecca of education. Moreover, it needs to be well understood that the community for which this institution has been established has got its own culture and history, which needs to be respected and preserved respectively, while exposing the community to the modern values of education. Women’s College is striving hard to fulfil the dreams of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who held immense faith in achieving education for all. Keeping with the mission of the its pioneers to nurture a community of lifelong learners, this college like its mother university continues to play an important role in sharing the traditional mode of education along with the modern needs of the contemporary society.
The student’s community of this institution only can and must take stand if they really care about their community, nation and above all the Founder, who despite facing all the odds and criticisms laid his life for the sake of his future generations. The need of the hour is to understand the real mission of the founder of this institution, to unite & fight against all the biases and prejudices existent in this institution which are actually acting as an impediment in the real mission of Sir Syed which is, exposing the Muslim populace irrespective of gender to modern educational standards to develop a scientific and rational temperament in them while preserving their cultural and religious identities.
*Author is a post graduate student at Aligarh Muslim University and alumni of Women’s College , AMU.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not necessarily reflect the position of Oracle Opinions.