I went to Jamia Millia Islamia. Here’s what I learnt about discrimination against Hindus
It has failed to reflect the character of a central university. That to my mind has been the real injustice.
- Total Shares
The news of Hindu students in Jamia Millia Islamia alleging discrimination brought a lump to my throat. It is difficult not to feel emotionally connected with your alma mater. But the news also forced me to sit back and reflect on what could have possibly brought the situation to a point where an educational institution, no less than a central university, finds itself mired in a controversy which is communal in nature.
To understand Jamia and the current controversy, one would need a bird’s eye view of where the university is located. Jamia Millia Islamia is in Jamia Nagar, a Muslim-majority area. It is rather a ghetto with lanes so narrow that make it impossible for a rickshaw and a scooter to pass through at the same time. It is the same Jamia Nagar which houses Batla House, an area which has come to be dreaded by community outsiders since the infamous encounter of 2008. Ask an auto driver to take you to Jamia Nagar after sundown, and you’ll know what “fear” I'm talking about.
Most students studying in Jamia stay in Jamia Nagar.
I enrolled at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Jamia Millia Islamia for a masters course in 2010. Educational institutions give you a lot. For me the lure of being part of college and university was attending seminars, workshops, debates and discussions. Because events like these were also opportunities to meet people who were experts in their subjects. Such exposures helped me ask questions and develop an inquisitive mind. But that inquisitive mind also one day made me question why only certain topics were chosen as themes for the various debates and discussions.
As a student of Jamia, I had started to feel that there were only two issues preoccupying the world’s imagination. The crisis in Kashmir and the injustice done to Palestinians at the hands of Israelis. Two very sensitive issues that need great debate and awareness, but certainly not the only ones that should concern young students.
None of these events can be organised without adequate resources being put in place and none of them can go ahead without the approval of the administration.
It thus struck me that this was a deliberate attempt by the administration to keep students preoccupied with such issues lest they question the sub-standard quality of education being dished out. An education where teachers serve powerpoint presentations that they prepared when they joined the profession and then force you to pen down the same during your exams.
Jamia doesn’t have the dhaba-discussion culture that defines Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Students are mostly found in the canteens to grab a quick bite or in the classes. They don’t spend a lot of time at canteens too.
Attendance requirements are strict and strictly enforced. A culture brought into force by the then vice-chancellor Najeeb Jung. His dictatorial enforcement of rules that killed the essence of a university life is a matter for another discussion, but the one great harm it did to Jamia was to muzzle the very spirit of freewheeling exchange of ideas.
Posters put up in the morning to highlight student issues would go missing before evening. No questions asked. No answers given. Absence of student unions ensured that there was no mobilisation of support for such causes. Jamia banned student elections 12 years back in 2006.
With most discussions centered around persecution of Muslims in Kashmir and Palestine, Jamia became a victim of parochialism of the worst kind. Students denied permission to sit for exams on flimsy grounds, fee hikes, absence of enough hostels to accommodate students, students not being allowed to complete internships were never the issues that rattled Jamia. It is important to mention that these issues impacted both Hindu and Muslim students.
A lot of voices from Jamia recently lent support to the Aligarh Muslim University’s fight for its right to keep Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s photo on the campus. It was only then that I found Jamia actually had a voice of its own.
It is fair for Jamia to fight against forces that threaten the existence of free speech, involve persecution of minorities and take a university’s right to put up portraits it deems fit, but Jamia has a bigger battle to fight before taking up any of those causes.
It is a battle Jamia must wage for itself. The jury is still out on whether Jamia is a minority institution or not, a matter that will take great time to settle but what the varsity needs to do meanwhile is ensure that its ideas and concerns reflect the spirit and essence of a central university. That students are sensitised to the perils of majoritarian assertion as much as to perceived minority victimhood.
Jamia doesn’t have a functional placement cell. It hardly trains its students for the job market. Established in 1920, it became a central university in 1988. Ninety-eight years after it came into being, the issues concerning students in Jamia do not reflect an egalitarian world view or a forward-looking aspirational outlook.
And now to the question — if I felt discriminated against as a Hindu in the university? No, never. Not even for a second.
Both Hindu and Muslim students have lost out because Jamia has failed to reflect the character of a central university. That to my mind has been the real injustice.