On October 18, the students at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) protested outside Bab-e-Syed, the historic gateway to AMU, demanding the resignation of the provost, Farukh Arjmand, after she locked students inside their hostel on October 15. The vice chancellor Zameeruddin Shah addressed the students and they received written confirmation that the provost would resign. This came a day after a flurry of recent reportage about the protests at AMU’s residence halls came to a climax with students protesting outside the Indira Gandhi Hall (the residence for postgraduate and Ph.D. students), and a recent article highlighted the suffocating rules imposed on women students at AMU’s Abdullah Hall, a residence for undergraduates. The protesting students had decided not to attend Sir Syed Day celebrations in honour of AMU’s founder.
On October 15, the first day of the AMU Alumni Meet, a cultural programme was being held at Kennedy Hall, a few kilometres away from the campus. A list of the students who could attend the cultural programme was made so that permission could be obtained for them to stay outside past their curfew of 6:30 pm. Arjmand signed the list, and told the students to wait inside the hostel while she made arrangements for a bus that was big enough to take them all to the venue. When they went in, they were locked inside and forbidden from going out.
Students had been protesting since then and demanding Arjmand’s resignation. The students’ union and the opposition were both supportive of the protests, which is very heartening and follows the ‘unprecedented’ appointment of three women to the students’ union this year.
The protests had first taken place outside the Indira Gandhi Hall, and many women students had not left the campus. Even before she became the provost, Arjmand (who is also a professor in the chemistry department) would serially indulge in character assassination, said Aisha, a first year masters student of English Literature, who took part in the protests — “Even when the girls came in five minutes after curfew, she has said things about a sex racket.” When some students went to her to complain about the terrible quality of food, Arjmand allegedly said, “Theek hai. Zeher mila deti hoon sabke khaane mein” (Okay. Maybe I will poison everyone’s food).
Arjmand came to the protest and offered to resign after she accepted the students’ charges. Her resignation letter was with the VC since October 16 – the VC hadn’t accepted her resignation on the grounds that this was humiliating to Arjmand (the VC himself is being probed for alleged financial and administrative misconduct). According to Aisha, the VC had said that it would be done, if at all, through “proper channels.”
On October 17, the VC had come to the protest at 6:30 am, when very few girls were around, because many had gone for namaaz, and others had gone back to the hostel to sleep. According to Aisha, the VC said that if they wanted permission to stay out till 10 pm at night, they had to get written permission from their parents.
The girls had conceded that Arjmand be allowed to supervise the Founder’s Day dinner last night, on the condition that the VC give them written confirmation that she would resign today or tomorrow. This too, had been denied. More than 500 girls of IG Hall boycotted the Founder’s Day dinner, staying outside in the cold instead — one of the girls was also rushed to the health centre when she fell ill because of the cold.
It seems like in two years, none of these rules have changed. Sameya Parveen, who graduated from AMU in 2014, and has lived in both Abdullah and IG Hall, says that things like suffocating curfews and bad food existed then too. Parveen remembers asking an attendant at the dining hall whether they actually tasted the food they served. She was then called to the provost, who sent her parents a letter, calling her disobedient and saying she should be removed from the hostel. Parveen’s parents were supportive, and eventually the administration decided to deal with the matter internally.
“Abdullah Hall was like jail. We weren’t allowed out except Sundays. If we had to go somewhere, we would have to get a fax with our parents’ signatures, and then file an application, which would be scrutinised. Finally you could fill out the request in the slipbook [permission slips for day outs],” Parveen says. She remembers that as an undergraduate student, she once had to attend a function in Lucknow. Her local guardian had come to pick her up, but even though she completed the whole procedure, she hadn’t been allowed to go. In the IG Hall, which was marginally better, she wasn’t allowed to stay out a little late even though she was a member of the film and drama club, and the Cultural Education Centre had asked for permission.
As Aisha says, “There’s a lot of talk surrounding every protest, about defaming the university. I want to make it clear that no movement is about that. We love the university, we just shouldn’t love it so much that we are uncritical of its faults.”
This piece originally appeared in The Ladies Finger.