India, a complex, beautiful and enchanting land, a melting pot of innumerable cultures, religions, ethnicities and traditions. India, a society deeply rooted in tolerance, compassion and forbearance. India, a land where the legends of Akbar’s justice, Shahjahan’s love, Prithvi Raj’s valor, Chanakya’s wisdom, live in every household. India, a land which gave birth to the concept of ahinsa, a land of Kabir and Kalidas, a land of Sufis and Sadhus, the land of Gandhi and Ghaffar, the land of Nehru and Azad, the land of Nanak and Gautum. The list can be endless and the names more empowering. One cannot help but be proud of their secular Indian heritage. Having lived in a tolerant India, the news of the slow rise of fascism and intolerance seem almost incomprehensible yet, the facts are facts. We cannot run away from facts. A recent incident happened too close to home.
I like many other Indians followed the pursuit to higher education and came to the US. An air of nostalgia breezes through the mind when reminded of the days spent at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in India. AMU, a public central university in India, was established in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, as Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College. It was in 1920 that the college became Aligarh Muslim University, the campus of which is situated in the Aligarh city in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Ever since it’s inception, this University has been a beacon of education, freedom and equality, producing notable alumni, including a former President of India, a former Vice-President of India, several Governors, Chief Ministers, Poets, Writers, Scientists, Sportsmen, Film and TV artists and many others. Recent US News and World Report puts AMU as one of the top public universities in the country, with law, medicine and engineering programs as one of the top in the nation.
On May 2, 2018, a group of thugs disguised as political activists supported by law enforcement officials barged into the University premises with the demands of removing the portrait of a former Indian political figure who later championed the two-state theory and was instrumental in the creation of Pakistan. This portrait was placed in the pre-independence era during the days of British rule, along with the portraits of other life members of the University AMU Students Union galleries. Traditionally, photographs of all life members are placed on the walls of the student union office including that of Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa to name only a few. Whether this portrait should or should not be there, is debatable, and should be debated by the present AMU student general body and due process should deliver the outcome.
The issue is not so much the portrait, as none of the AMU students, present or past think much of the individual in question any way, the point is the following. It is alarming when fascist forces start to break-in the gates of academic institutions with the aim of robbing these institutions of their freedom. Their agenda is not promoting patriotism or strengthening nationalism but their goal is curbing freedom of expression, silencing discussions, hijacking debates, raping harmony, undermining justice and diminishing peace. Can we as a society afford it?
Samina Salim is Associate Professor of Pharmacology at University of Houston. She is also an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org