Combat Patriarchal Mindset at AMU!

aligarh muslim university

The ascendancy of Hindu nationalism in India has led to the sharp demarcation of religio-communitarian boundaries. In response to communal attacks on Islamic identity, the Muslim gentry has reinforced a politics of conservatism, wherein the fight against Hindutva is transmuted into a battle-cry for the intensification of religious consciousness. Secular modernity is singled out for its diluting effects upon the purity of Muslims. This politico-ideological dynamic can be witnessed at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which is a central hub of intellectual activity for Indian Muslims. On March 4, 2024, the AMU unit of the Islamic Youth Federation (IYF) posted the following digital message: “AMU, an institution esteemed for its dignity and cultural identity, is witnessing a decline in reputation due to the spread of indecency and vulgarity under the illusion of cultural programs, eroding its respect and dignity. We demand that the university administration take appropriate action.”

Since cultural activities bring together both boys and girls in performances of singing, dancing etc., they weaken the hold of rigid gender norms. IYF wants to control the bodies of Muslim women through the imposition of restrictions on their movement, clothes, etc. Cultural events deny this fantasy of total control, as they involve women who are using their own creative will to participate in diverse endeavors. The IYF resents this. That’s why it keeps trying to use religious morality to subordinate women to men. In 2019, the organization had put up a vile poster in which it depicted Muslim women as a caged bird that had to be protected from ideas like feminism, liberalism, communism, and atheism. These ideas are portrayed as exposing women to the dangers of sexual harassment and abuse. The message is clear: if women don’t obey the orders of their masculine jailers, they will be punished with sexual violence. Any hint of free activity from women will invite the wrath of the patriarchs.

Misogynists in AMU resort to the rhetoric of tehzeeb (culture) when they want to police the behavior of women. According to their unthinking perspective, tehzeeb is an inviolable heritage that has to be unquestionably obeyed. Without tehzeeb, Muslims would lose their very identity. What gets hidden in this ideological propaganda is the fact that tehzeeb only serves the interests of Muslim men. It is regarded as a sacrosanct tradition only because it enables men to oppress women, to regulate their activities according to the male ego. Without tehzeeb, it is Muslim men who will lose their identity, namely the patriarchal privileges that maintain their sense of self-respect.

Given the gendered dimension of tehzeeb, it is essential that we destroy it. The destruction of patriarchal tehzeeb will liberate women, enabling them to take their lives in their own hands. IYF considers this freedom to be chaotic, as it thinks that it will only lead to “indecency” and “vulgarity”. Against this, they erect the pillar of “cultural identity,” which is equated with “respect” and “dignity”. This entire terminological edifice collapses when one asks: “respect” and “dignity” for whom? Who is offended by “indecency” and “vulgarity”? The answer: Muslim men. When one prioritizes the oppressive interests of Muslim men, it is no wonder that seeing Muslim women undertake actions without patriarchal supervision will only invite resentful anger. It is important to note that cultural activities hardly constitute the justice that is due to women. In the words of Amber H. Abbas: “Though much has changed in AMU since the 1940s, women’s education has never been central to AMU’s corporate life. Women’s hostels remain spatially marginalized as was true when Abdullah Hall, two and a half kilometers from AMU’s center, was the only option for female students.”

The physical, emotional, and material benefits that patriarchy has derived from the oppression of women are enormous. This debt is etched in society as the vast history of prolonged and brutal injustices against women. Cultural activities within a university are hardly any remedy for the patriarchal social system that has subjugated and murdered women. Glancing at the litany of suffering contained in patriarchy, one wonders why women have remained so exceedingly moderate, why they haven’t been more revengeful towards their male oppressors. Any politico-cultural initiative in AMU should base itself upon this historical fact, and realize why women need to be unconditional freedom without pandering to any male sentiments. If entities like IYF are worried about the erosive effects of cultural activities, we should let them know that this is nothing, that an entire revolution needs to be unleashed. As Periyar declares: “If a man has the right to kill women, a woman should also have the right to kill men. If there is a compulsion that women should fall at men’s feet, then men should also fall at women’s feet. This is equal rights for men and women.”

Yanis Iqbal is studying at Aligarh Muslim University, India. He has published more than 300 articles in different magazines and websites on imperialism, social movements, political theory, educational philosophy, and cultural criticism. He is the author of the forthcoming book Education in the Age of Neoliberal Dystopia.

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