Gender Experience At
Aligarh Muslim University
By Nazia Y.Izuddin
10 June, 2004
Muslim University is a romantic dream for Muslims all over the world.
True that in the late 80's, the university, then, the Mohammedan Anglo
Oriental College, revolutionized education for the backward Muslim community.
The founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan envisioned that this institution would
educate men and women who would lead Muslim community to modern thought,
liberation and progress. A vision that progressive Muslims globally
are still trying to achieve.
Whenever I talk
about Aligarh Muslim University to its alumni, many have been offended
by what they think is criticism by a westernized wannabe-feminist Muslim
girl who has forgotten her roots and culture. It has been difficult
for me to not express concerns not just as a present student of the
institution but also as a member of the Muslim community wanting to
uphold the sanctity of an institution as great as AMU. After enough
contemplation I have decided to share my experiences even if it may
raise discontempt from any quarters.
When I joined Aligarh
Muslim University, I had in mind a grand central university fulfilling
international standards in adult learning. An institution that would
expose young men and women to radical thinking and action. Where, the
community would find a vent to overcome the backwardness it has been
crippled with educationally and socially. Unfortunately my four years
has revealed the reasons why we cannot break through the great cultural
divide between education and progress. One of the reasons being my gender
that pre dominates categories for judgment in the still biased university.
It was only after
a month in the university that I discovered that classes in bachelors
degrees and courses till twelfth grade were separate for men and women.
Well the question might be "is this a genuine issue that needs
deliberation"? My answer being, yes, it is.
The reasons that
women still are restricted in Abdullah Hall, an exclusive hall for women,
including all facilities from classes to shopping to play grounds is
succumbing to the so called Islamic view that women need to be protected.
And since the authority, every one from the watchman to the Proctor
claim that Aligarh Muslim University upholds Islamic values, they have
to cater to women's education within these so-called values.
These values made
it very difficult for the men to accept my presence in the arts center,
in the debating societies that were exclusive to men, the drama club
that hadn't cast female roles in years and even the university roads
and playgrounds. Women were expected to take rickshaws and not walk.
And all the while, you are a subject of scrutiny to male eyes examining
righteousness and piety in your clothes, actions and speech.
Power has always
been a male phenomenon here. They make the rules, to their convenience
and enforce it in the guise of Islam and the need for protecting women.
Isn't education about equipping individuals to protect and defend themselves.
If the system endorses your cripple status, who will liberate you? Here
begins the concern to take Aligarh Muslim University for the values
that it truly upheld at one point in history.
Aligarh Muslim University
has never had a female member in the students union. It has never had
women representation in intervarsity sports and games competitions,
for thirteen long years, women did not represent the university in the
national youth festival. It was in 2000, the year I joined college,
the secretary of the literary club convinced the Coordinator that the
girls could be part of the team. After severe deliberation, finally
the university took its first mixed group of men and women. Though it
was historical and might sound primitive for an age old institution,
the opposition and the criticism and scrutiny the girls had to go through
can't be stated in words. We are not talking about a team of students
here. But a team of men who have renounced the student status and taken
upon themselves to guard women in their university from the clutches
of modernity and liberal influences. They would watch whom you talk
to, the way you talk and tell you when to move, when to sit and when
When I am at Aligarh
Muslim University, I am quite often reminded that I am a girl and how
indecent it is for me to be moving with men, even if there is an educational
cause. Scared of these value judgments, girl students restrict themselves
to their hostels. Which means a life of only lectures and classes in
a residential university where a student spends on an average at least
three years. I see a few of my class mates, girls who had come with
ambition and talent who are now silent residents in their respective
halls. There is no life beyond tutors and classes in the university
campus for women while on the other hand men play football and basketball
in the playgrounds, learn sitar and tabla in the music club and spend
their night hours in the university's 24 hour Maulana Azad Library.
Who will take up
our cause? Is it that Muslim girls don't deserve quality education?
Or is that they
are second to men and should only live in the shadow of their male members
always? Or is it that Aligarh Muslim University for women is only an
elitist qualification for a good social marriage?
Whatever it has
been, I don't think I would be one of those to silently accept the majority
endorsed status of segregated education. Our identities can't be crushed
within the walls of the university campus. For all I know, as the students
gain more exposure, they will stand up for themselves. And if the university
does not shed its feudal and dictatorial qualities, it is going to go
down on quality, both in terms of education and students. We need professors
and lecturers who can give us the strength to attend to our minds and
the needs of higher education. We need guardians who will come out of
the 50's mindset and adapt to the changing scenario. We want support
from students, academicians, scholars and most importantly from the
alumni who share with us the love for and spirit of our alma mater.
From this short piece, I surely hope that I can draw attention and support
to revive a great institution which otherwise might kill its own self
because of an identity crisis or an imposed identity. I hope the coming
years spell change and action for this inevitable cause.