Much Ado about Nothing : Maulana Azad Library and Membership of Girls in AMU

, Rana's Space

This post from November 2014 was published on my old blog Rana’s Space.
I’ve brought to my new site

Kuchh to hote haiN mohabbat mein junooN ke aasaar…
aur kuchh log bhi deewana bana dete hain.

Since yesterday all of the social media chatter was directed at what seemed a very Khap like ban on all female students of AMU from entering the central Library or Maulana Azad Library (MAL) in the University
This was in response to an utterly condemnable statement of the Vice Chancellor of AMU, Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah regarding why girls from Women’s College were not allowed to enter MAL as they would attract four times the number of boys and there was a space constraint.
As proud 3rd generation alum of AMU, I was very shocked to see the rampant bias and pre ordained mindset not of the clearly tactless and probably sexist General but of the media and tweeps ready to believe the worst regarding the Muslim community and the Aligarh Muslim University.
When I started clarifying it by saying that there was no ban on girls ( pursuing post graduate courses and professional courses) from entering the MAL and it was only restricted to students of Women’s College which had been established as a separate entity with seperate facilities inside it, I was called all kinds of names.
Some one called me a “khap dolt woman” another called me names that I am ashamed to even say out loud and many tried to cow me down by saying that I was a regressive female ready to let AMU get talibanised.
By afternoon after much concerted tweeting by Tarique Anwar and myself with photographic proof of girls sitting inside the MAL, sent by Fahad Hussain, the narrative calmed down and started baying for the VC’s blood.

Why should 16-17 year olds be denied the right to go 3 kms to the central library for their research?
Turned out that these 16-17 year olds were allowed inside the library but could not get books issued directly as they had to send requisition via their own College Library.
I agree that there should be no such restriction and free access to every facility of the University to which Women’s College is affiliated should be granted to them. I hope that issue is addressed soon as it’s been a long standing demand. In fact the present crisis is because the members of the present Women’s College Students Union had made it a part of their manifesto and sent a letter to the VC on taking office. Glad to see that these things are being talked about and that these issues are being brought out into the open and not brushed under the carpet.
Having said that I would like to state that every department of the University actually is so well stocked and so more convenient to access that I only ever went to MAL to hang out with friends. I don’t ever remember issuing a book from there and I can assure you I was a good student and in fact the topper of my class, so it wasn’t as if I didn’t study.
There is definitely a matter of trying to curb girls and their freedom in the name of safety but that is not a religion specific or region specific problem and definitely not an AMU specific problem. That is a debate and a much-needed debate but that’s not to be confused with the Women’s College students getting access to MAL, which is actually a logistics issue.
I don’t regard myself as a feminist because I dislike labels but I am a strong willed, independent woman and the daughter of one too.  I grew up in a very open, broadminded supportive atmosphere with my sisters, encouraged to pursue our dreams. For me rights were a matter of course and something I never had to struggle for at home, in school or in this Women’s College.
I was the President of the Women’s College Students Union in 1976, the year of the emergency when very few colleges held students union elections, but Women’s College did.
I was the Senior Hall Monitor of Abdullah Hall and as such freely represented my college and Hall in all meetings in the University.
In fact I remember fighting for and getting restarted the participation of boys in Hall weeks and girls teams going to Boys Halls as that had been temporarily stopped due to emergency.
So I am no timid, repressed or dominated woman.
My stand was against the false notion being spread that no girl was allowed into MAL, and that all other women apart from Women’s College were allowed and that infrastructure should be improved so the latter can be allowed too. But till then they were definitely not deprived of education as they had a splendid library and could access books from MAL too.

The fact that AMU has a VC who is definitely very lacking in gender sensitivity has compounded the problem. Last year he was in the news for insisting that girl students should not wear jeans:
Addressing the girl students as his daughters he had appealed to them to dress according to the glorious traditions of the university. Boys were asked to wear shervanis when coming to meet him. So controversy isn’t anything new as far as he is concerned.
Yesterday he clarified that :
“We are not at all sexist, we want women empowerment, certainly don’t want to segregate our girls,” the AMU VC said.

“These reports are completely wrong, I said there is not space for even a single seat in that library,” Zameer Uddin Shah said adding, “that all the books in that library are available online.”

The VC also cited security concerns to defend his diktat, which has been condemned by several groups.
AMU VC’s remark not only hurts as a woman but also agitates, says HRD minister Smriti Irani, terming it as “insult to daughters”.

There is a huge need for a debate of rights of women in Muslim community as well as in others but that’s another issue and has to be addressed separately, impartially without religion bashing, name calling and with impartiality.
It is happening and I hope the voices become stronger. No community or nation can progress unless its women do.  It saddens me that probably as a reaction to what is being perceived as marginalization by the Muslim community, girls and boys are more increasingly adopting symbols of the religion. It could also be because of growing awareness via the internet or because they feel that this identity is important and needs to be safeguarded.
We were a much more carefree generation who hardly bothered about religion outside our homes and were largely unaware of any religious discrimination outside our own circle due to limited communication.
As I write this there is news of a huge protest by AMU students over wrong reporting and misrepresentation by the media

Abdullah Azzam reading out Press Release on Maulana Azad Library Controversy in Urdu in which he condemns the media for misrepresentation and the VC for an irresponsible statement appeals  to HRD Minister for funds and reacts to the issue taking on a communal tinge

Press Release from AMU–csJg

Now presenting some voices of past and present students of AMU from my Facebook Page
as you can see the voices are divided on the levels of satisfaction with the status quo

Pervaiz Alam a batchmate and friend who is Professor & Dean, Journalism & Mass Communication, Apeejay Stya University at Journalism, Broadcasting, Screen writing and Media Consultancy had this to say:

The current VC of AMU, Lieutenant General Zameeruddin Shah, who also served as the Deputy Chief of Indian Army, is not a Mullah by any definition. But surely one can blame the current controversy on his advisors.
As an Aligarian, let me do you a favour Mr. Vice Chancellor. Here’s your media spin: this is the month of Azad and Nehru. Just two days ago, National Education Day was observed across the nation to commemorate the birth anniversary of the Indian scholar and political leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad- the first education minister of India from 1947 to 1958. From 14th of November, celebrations would start to mark 125th birth anniversary of India’s first prime minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru.
Let me connect the dots. Nehru ji came to Aligarh to inaugurate the library as Maulana Azad Library in 1960. To pay tribute to these two stalwarts of Indian freedom in this month, Mr. Vice Chancellor, you could make this simple announcement: the doors of Maulana Azad Library would be open to all students of the university.
Making some space available to girl students is a time table issue and can be resolved with a bit of imagination. Are you listening Shah sahib?

Asiya Islam :
Aligarh Muslim University women should not back down just because BJP has taken up their cause
Things must have changed since I studied  at Aligarh Muslim University for three years until 2009. This week, the vice chancellor of the university, Lieutenant General (retd) Zameeruddin Shah, justified the policy of not allowing undergraduate women to use the main Maulana Azad Library. If more women are allowed, the vice chancellor said, the number of men in the library would swell by at least four times. Somehow, I just do not remember hordes of studious men at AMU.

Shadab Bano, assistant professor at the Women’s College of the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), told AFP her students were shut out of the library with a steady variety of excuses.
“We have been fighting for this for a long time. Every time we raise a demand, the authorities either give an evasive response or come up with strange reasons for not letting the girls inside,” she said.

Minhal Abidi ·
I’m a PhD scholar and I’m in A.M.U. since 2005.
I have myself studied in this Library for months, all day many other girls.
I admit the girls do not enjoy the freedom that boys do in the campus, but this does not jeopardize the girl’s right to education by any means. Every department has its own library and book bank, apart from Maulana Azad Library. Its only the undergraduate non professional courses girls who do not have access to this main library, for reasons other than the one stemming up all the ruckus.
Respected HRD minister and media, check out the facts before you raise such hue and cry.
Groundwork needs to be done before hand.

Azra Rizvi amu ore jamia ki rewayat alag alag hain mager AMU main jo masla es waqt uthaya jaraha hai wo belkul gender bias nahin hai es ko bnaya jaraha hai. ager larkeyan chahen to women colleg ki laibrery main padh sakti hain us ke liy mulana aazad laibrert jane ki koi khas wajah nahin hai

Yashfeen Khan Taking the issue forward, some add ups from my views:
This issue of “Ban of Girls in MA-library” started in 2008, and I was among the hardcore team to light the propaganda.
But to be true, this is a totally youngish behaviour of girls.They are not even clear with what actually they want ‘SPACE’ in WC Library or the ‘BOOKS’ in WC library
If space is concerned, Women’s college provide extravagant of it for the studying purpose and for the HOOPLA purpose( which girls are always seen doing in WC, my personal experience)And we never felt a need to visit MALibrary except for visiting or fun purpose.
And on the contrary where,if Books are the topic of argument, Time and again books can be ordered on demand. It’s all about mis managing skills of the sources available.
Every single student of AMU be it a Boy or a Girl sits and studies in the respective departmental seminar since, maximum books are available there and Abdullah hall has this Seminar in every single hostle. So,the issue shouldn’t be allowance of girls in MAL but availability of more books in the WC campus.

Tarique Anwer an alum of AMU and a banker writes
Amidst all no one took notice of one of the historic decision of VC to induct a representative of women’s college student in AMU court. AMU court is supreme decision-making body of the university. But, a non-issue is the prime time subject for news channels. AMU may have multiple problems, certainly these are not the one which is being reported.

Maimoonah Hassan · a BDS Intern at Ziauddin Ahmad Dental College and Hospital. And in the five years I’ve been in this college and two in Abdullah Hall, I never faced a hindrance when it came to my education.
All the leading faculties have their personal, extremely well equipped and capable libraries- for example, Abdullah Hall, ZHCET and JNMCH. Moreover it isn’t the case that girls are forbidden from entering the library, the statement is simply being twisted by the so-called feminists.

Personally, I feel that the main people who have an issue with this are the ones who DON’T go to the libraries/book banks. We aren’t being denied access or education. Hostelers have their own study spaces and day scholars have permission to visit the library as per their needs. However what is being done is only for the sole purpose of discipline. We all know what happens when there’s too many girls in one place with open access to boys- not generalising here, but we’ve all seen/experienced it.

Furthermore, this has become an issue for no reason. Because its not like the women of this university are being deprived of their education. They are encouraged to become leading experts in their respective fields and there are no issues of anti-feminism here, except for people who don’t know what the true meaning of feminism really is.

Saba Ameer Siddiqui
I am a student of B.Arch, third year, AMU.
And my opinion is that whatever is happening in the campus these days is just a manipulation of a mere statement. It seems that the media is portraying AMU as a gender biased university. They are trying to show that no female student is allowed in Maulana Azad Library, which is not the case. It’s only that the Women’s College is distant from the University and it’s not really feasible for them to go all the way. Which is why they have their own libraries. Except them, the entire University’s female students are given equal rights to access MAL.
Moreover, as far as gender bias is concerned, AMU is a very secular university. Women are given equal rights in all respects, be it extra curricular or academics.

Hina Khalil, its not opposition of the mixing up of gender.if it had been so then girls won’t have entry into the library at grad. Girls are already using it freely.its a mere infrastructural & administrative problem.we must admit that it all started because of the casual remarks from VC and there was no one in the university to counter the media’s distorted version of the story rather they were defending the indefencible.
I can speak only about the time I was there,never experienced any gender bias,had a free access to all the resources of the university and being a girl was never a problem .it was a different time altogether but I think AMU was more progressive then,more tolerant and open to ideas. ( did MA Economics in 1991)

Hira Zzaidi Third year of B.Tech (Electrical), a proud student of Zakir Husain College of Engineering and Technology, AMU..

As far as access is concerned, Abdullah Hall has it’s own well established library and that’s for the students of Women’s College! In addition to that, the hostelers are not allowed outside the premises except on Sundays. And the Maulana Azad Library is quite far from Abdullah Hall. Even if it were allowed, it would only create a discrimination between the day’s scholars and the hostelers, thereby creating further havoc.

I don’t really think there is a gender bias at AMU. People who feel such is the case, have probably failed to tap their potential and resorted to this claim as their last resort. That’s what I feel, personally. Everyone is given a fair chance to succeed.
Mr Zameeruddin Shah is a very capable man and he has changed the face of AMU worldwide. We are now equipped with better facilities and developing infrastructure.

Umme Kulsoom Zaidi  ( alum of AMU and doing BArch in Jamia Milia) Girls were allowed to go to maulana azaad library but we did not have the privilege of getting books issued from there. For that we had a separate library and reading room at WC campus.
Although there is a separate section for girls from other departments at the library.
Classifying it as biasness would not be completely true, but women’s college girls are confined to their own space with little or no interaction with the university side. The idea of creating a secured and separate place for girls which was a necessity till almost 2 decades back is now becoming a reason for the lack of exposure for the girls there.
The library facility has been an issue for quite some time. Having to wait for the Sir/Ma’am to come with the books that we described to them was a tiring process, which discouraged many girls from going to the library. During my days there I hardly remember going there myself after the first two visits.
The problems are more because of the lack of attention of the administration than them being anything regarding gender discrimination. The girls from other university departments studying in co-ed can avail all the facilities. The up-gradation of the facilities at WC is long overdue as most of the amenities provided today are the same that were provided to the girls who passed out 20-30 years ago.

Seema Alam ( a Doctor from JNMC, AMU) Dont hide behind age old tradition excuse…….Let the girls have equal rights………Change the mindset…….it is the demand of the times. Or else Islam ke thekedaar……..Indian Muslims will face the consequences because this creates such a bad picture for the community…..Ab bhi waqt hai…..Change the Mindset

Shazia Yaqin Media does sensationalises issues as such but we should not forget that media is also responsible for bringing in to light many other related issues like Nirbhaya and cases of atrocities on weaker gender. The university library is amassed with great books in thousands and quite well euipped. However my only concern is that women undergraduates should also be allowed access. If security lapses are the concern of the administration, then it should make sure that students are given enough security on the campus. I have studied Engg from this university and have never faced any gender biases ness.

Wajiha mehdi writes:
I was a member of the executive body of AMU students’ union in 2011. One of the major issues that we had taken up during my campaign was of the access to Maulana Azad Library. It was at the top of the list of problems on our pamphlets. So, I understand how this must have been one of the main agendas for campaign taken up by the representatives of the present union.
I spoke on the issue to the media in 2012, precisely, to the Times of India and I remember being careful about how I phrased my statement. I wanted the media to address the issue for what it was- a systematic administrative gender discrimination against a section of the university’s female student community. I did not want this to be made a “muslim-cultural-approach of discrimination against women” affair. This was the one point that I had emphasised on and it was nowhere to be found in the final report. It is not easy to address the unreasonable policies of the administration because for one thing you are held responsible for defaming the institution and tagged a traitor and additionally the media cannot be trusted to genuinely take up the issue.

Further Reading

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