New Delhi: Soon after Jamia Millia Islamia said it was disbanding two departments – the Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women’s Studies and the Centre for Social Exclusion and Inclusivity Policy – with immediate effect, the university administration did a U-turn citing assurances of continuing support from the University Grants Commission.
The letter discontinuing the women’s studies department read, “In view of the previous extension accorded by the University Grants Commission till March 31, 2020, expired and no further extension conveyed to the university, the Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women’s Studies, JMI, is hereby ceased to exist. (sic)”
Both the letters also “disengaged” the teaching and non-teaching staff in the departments “under Plan/Project” mode effective from 1st of April, 2020.
As soon as the notice leaked, panic ensued among students as well as faculty members. Jamia Millia Islamia, however, withdrew both the notices within an hour of releasing them.
Panic among faculty and students
When she heard about the discontinuation initially, a senior faculty member of the Women Studies department said, “The department used to get an extension on a yearly basis. Earlier, as per the plan, the extension used to happen every five years. That plan ended in 2017. Now, we were supposed to receive this year’s extension letter but due to the lockdown, the UGC letter was in process, but didn’t get approved yet. The vice chancellor discontinued the department without waiting for the extension letter. They have also disengaged us.” Even though the word “disengaged” had been used in the now-withdrawn notice, according to the faculty member it simply meant termination.
According to her, there are 12 non-teaching and 5 teaching staff at the department. “The university should have first reached out to the UGC for a response. A decision should have been taken after getting to know the status of the extension letter. How can the university arbitrarily discontinue a whole department amid a pandemic?”
“Without an advisory coming from the UGC, this decision has been taken. That too, in a time when the whole country is in a state of a lockdown,” she noted.
According to Jamia’s official website, the Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women Studies department was established under the University Grants Commission in September 2000. Named after the prominent freedom fighter, the department offers post-graduate degrees in gender studies, has around 70 students at the MA, MPhil and PhD levels and is noted for its good academic record.
Laraib Neyazi, in the second semester of her MA at the department said he felt like a “prisoner” when he heard about the discontinuation. “We thought our classes have been suspended abruptly. When we got admitted to this department, we were so happy. I had always wanted to do gender studies. But I had no idea this suspension of the course- is something that can be announced so suddenly, without prior notice.”
Neyazi has been actively taking part in the online classes being conducted since the lockdown. He said, “I don’t know how the university can take such action during such a difficult time? Many people in my class called me while crying. They didn’t know what to tell their parents.”
Samia Khan, class representative of MA Gender Studies, spoke in a weak voice, “I especially chose this course, a very new and unique course in India. Even though my parents weren’t ready to send me here, because they thought I will not get a job after this, I was so enthusiastic because I wanted to do research in this field.” She broke down while saying, “Now this has become very problematic for us…that too in the middle of a lockdown when we can’t even do anything. I am the CR of my class, and people are panicking like anything. I am constantly getting calls from people…we were doing our assignments and attending our classes online, and suddenly this happened. This is a shock.”
After the notice was withdrawn
A faculty member at the Centre for Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy said, “The thing is, the way these centres function all over India is through UGC extensions. A letter was supposed to go to the UGC seeking extension, but because of the lockdown, somewhere it got stopped midway and the letter couldn’t go through. A notice did come out about the departments being suspended, but the issue was resolved soon after. They can’t arbitrarily stop the functioning of a department in a Central university like this, in the middle of a lockdown. They had to take it back.”
The total number of students including MA, MPhil and PhD courses offered by the centre is roughly around 50.
Even though Jamia has officially withdrawn the notice, students remain fearful and apprehensive due to this unexpected and sudden move by the university administration, and there is confusion among many.