[Following is a report by a special correspondent for Jamia Journal who wishes to remain unnamed for fear of reprisal by the administration.]
A convention under the banner “Save Jamia” was organised by the All India Students Association (AISA) at Urdu Ghar, New Delhi on Thursday, 18th October. The main speakers included noted civil liberties activist, Gautam Navlakha; political scientist and professor Jawaharlal Nehru University, Dr. Maninder Thakur; President Jamia Teachers Association, Prof. M. S. Bhatt; Associate Professor JNU, Dr. Akhlaque Ahmad; well-known journalist Javed Naqvi; and former Jamia student, Hamidur Rehman. The convention saw the presence of activists and students from Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Delhi University.
The convention was part of the recently launched ‘Save Jamia Campaign’ by AISA which has three broad objectives: restoring campus democracy, having an affordable campus, and seeking justice for Hamidur Rehman, who was unjustly denied admission to Jamia; all meant to “save the character of Jamia”.
The backgrounder to each of these issues was spoken of in detail by the AISA’s National President, Sandeep Singh, in the initial address. “After Banaras Hindu University, Jamia is probably the most draconian and suppressive university, despite a glorious history of being rebellious,” he said.
Sandeep spoke at length about the ban on students union and any democratic activity in Jamia, the case of Hamidur Rahman who was shown the way out by Jamia administration after he filed a PIL asking for student union elections, and also about the show-cause notices which were recently sent to many students following the protests against the mess fee hike in September this year. “This is all a part of politics wherein universities like Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University and others with an overwhelming minority character are intentionally being headed towards ghettoization”, he went on to say.
Expressing his surprise about not having any prior information of the issue despite being in Delhi and speaking of other dangerous developments, Gautam Navlakha said, “It is a very unfortunate thing that in universities like JMI and AMU, either generals or IAS or IPS officers are made Vice Chancellors and not academicians. In the name of maintaining discipline, students are encouraged not to engage in politics”. He further added that it wasn’t just the case of Jamia or one Hamidur Rehman but the story of many universities, as a new form of private democracy that people are being introduced to. “Students need to fight collectively because today’s institutions are far too powerful and nothing can be done individually”, said Gautam.
This was followed by a fiery address by Hamidur Rehman, a former Jamia student who was denied admission to Masters course after the Vice Chancellor used his discretionary powers to reject his admission, allegedly because Hamidur Rahman filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court asking for Students Union elections in Jamia. “I was harassed and denied admission just because I asked a question as to why there is an undemocratic Jamia in a democratic India, and where student union funds go if there’s no students union in Jamia”, said Rahman. He went on to talk about his struggle, what prompted him to file a Public Interest Litigation, his meet with the Vice Chancellor where he was “offered many perks in return for his withdrawal of the case” and all the hindrances created in his fight for democratic rights in Jamia.
In his address, Professor M.S. Bhat, who heads the Jamia Teachers Association, spoke about how not just students but even the teachers in Jamia are denied their rights. “There’s a wilful indifference from the top, sometimes deliberate and sometimes by design. There’s a total lack of accountability as well. While the Prime Minister is responsible to the Parliament, the Vice Chancellors are like kings — accountable to none.” He raised an important issue by stressing that every dissent in Jamia is seen with suspicion as a dissent which would endanger national integration. He also spoke about the discrepancies in appointing professors, lack of accountability over expenditure and absence of provisions for graded punishments for teachers.
This address was followed by that of Dr. Akhlaque Ahmad and Javed Naqvi, both of whom voiced their concerns about such a state of affairs and called for collective efforts to fight the problem. “Jamia needs a storm of students to link up with students of other universities to collectively fight the problem and a revolution to overthrow the Vice Chancellor.”
Dr Maninder Thakur of JNU highlighted the need to have academic freedom and said, “If there’s no academic freedom, how can a university be a university in the true sense? Human creativity can’t work unless you have academic freedom”, said the Political Science Professor, explaining how the same has been asserted through a Students Union in JNU. He called for the urgent need to fight for the democratization of education, which would ultimately strengthen the democracy of India.
Other people to speak on the issue included Sitab Ali Chaudhury, the lawyer for Hamidur Rehman, who spoke about the Court journey since filing the PIL against Jamia, and Nisar Ahmad, correspondent for the Siyasi Taqdeer newspaper who shared his experience of being harassed by Jamia administration for covering the recent student protests.
The programme concluded with AISA pledging to stand for the cause of saving Jamia and holding more of such programmes in the future.