In 1976, when the Emergency rule was at its peak, I remember going to the Aligarh Muslim University’s (AMU) Students Union Hall to hear Kuldeep Nayyar speak out against it. We were young and idealistic and had visions for our university, our nation and ourselves, and listened to him with rapt attention.
I don’t think any of us noticed any of the portraits hanging there. They are portraits of people who were given lifetime membership of the students’ union from its inception. This has been a tradition at AMU. The first to receive this membership was Mahatma Gandhi in 1920.
Others who have received it since are Dr BR Ambedkar, Dr Rajendra Prasad, KM Munshi, Maulana Azad, Sir CV Raman, Jayaprakash Narayan and Mother Teresa.
The AMU Students Union had invited Hamid Ansari, who is a former Vice President of India and an alumnus of AMU, to confer the same honour on him on 2 May 2018.
AMU’s Secular History
The local BJP MP, Satish Gautam, wrote a letter to the AMU Vice Chancellor on 30 April, seeking the removal of the Jinnah portrait. The Hindu Yuva Vahini , founded by Yogi Adityanath, had given a 48-hour notice for the same.
Now, AMU has a very secular history and its first graduate was Ishwari Prasad, a Hindu. In fact, AMU’s first chancellor was a woman, Begum Shah Jahan of Bhopal. Its founder Syed Ahmad Khan, collected a large number of sculptures which are proudly and prominently displayed in the Central University Museum.
It has a history of service to the nation, so to demonise AMU and its students and to call them anti-nationals andgaddar(traitors) is an insult to every student, past and present, of the esteemed institution.
Mohammad Sajjad, a professor in AMU, feels this is being done to stoke passions as theKairana by-election is round the corner.
AMU spokesman Shafey Kidwai on Tuesday defended the portrait, which has apparently been hanging there for decades, saying that Jinnah was a founder member of the university court and granted life membership to the student union. Traditionally, photographs of all life members are placed on the walls of the student union.Mohammad Sajjad, Professor, AMU to PTI
On Wednesday, as a storm raged outside, a storm raged in my head too as I started receiving photos of injured AMU students. All kinds of reports were being given about what happened and I was extremely upset at the visuals of bleeding and injured students. My initial response, on Twitter, was to demand safety of the students.
Tarique Anwer who graduated from AMU in 2004 said:
AMU as an institution is almost 150 years old. The university is the product of a movement led by reformist Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. The university has long been in the eye of sanghs who want to drive a communal agenda by targeting AMU’s secular nature. Before Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi was awarded a lifetime membership by AMU. This is not about Jinnah’s picture being there; they are just using it as a tool to drive hatred.Irfanullah Farooqi, a professor at AMU, said:
The arrival of this kind of goon-ism marks the end of any kind of conversation. We are witnessing a society where an earnest exchange of words/ideas is completely outdone by an exceedingly aggressive one-dimensional understanding of history, culture and identity. Jinnah, just like Gandhi, Nehru and many others, was no ordinary figure. To limit him to Partition is to demonstrate utmost ignorance vis-à-vis modern India. This flattening of personalities needs to be questioned in every possible way. There is more to Jinnah than 1947’s Partition, just as there is more to Nehru than simply being a signatory to that agreement.
Remains of the Day
There was a lot of confusion with people saying that the Hindu Yuva Vahini was burning an effigy of Jinnah, and students objected to it, so I spoke to Sharjeel Usmani, an undergraduate student at AMU, who was witness to the protests. Despite being injured, he managed to type it all out for me so that there could be clarity.
The union had invited Hamid Ansari to honour him with the students’ union’s lifetime membership award. He reached AMU around 1:50 pm and stayed at the guest house, which is near AMU’s main entrance. His lecture was scheduled to be held at the Kennedy Hall at 4 pm. At around 2:30 pm, a few Hindu Yuva Vahini activists came in, chanting slogans such as ‘AMU ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro saalo ko’.
“They had weapons in their hands, and they reached the entrance of the guesthouse where Hamid Ansari was staying and started firing in the air, while raising other vulgar slogans against AMU and Muslims. All through this, a policeman was with them and he stayed mum while they were doing all this. After hearing gunshots, the students and several members of the students’ union ran towards them, getting hold of six of them who were still armed,” he added.
Further he went on to say, “Meanwhile, Hamid Ansari’s own security also came into action. We called the police and handed over these six people to the police. The police released those six men without even questioning them. They didn’t even take them to the police station. Later, the police denied lodging an FIR. The students sat at AMU’s main entrance in protest, demanding the arrest of those six men and an FIR to be lodged. The police refused to comply. The RAF was called in, following which students were lathi-charged and tear gas shells were used on them.”
Hamid Ansari himself refused to say anything on the matter, calling it a “nonsense issue”. The General Body Meeting of the Students’ Union, AMU, has decided to file a petition against the police and district administration in the Allahabad High Court. The AMU teachers’ association has released an appeal to students:
“We appeal to the students to maintain calm at this hour of crisis and defeat the ulterior motive of the perpetrators. Have trust in us. The culprits will be caught and punished as per law of the land.”
As a third generation AMU alumni, I can only pray that the law of the land prevails; that the guilty are punished and students are allowed to study and take their exams which are just around the corner.
Published on The Quint