The single most dangerous predisposition of fascists is persistence.
The alleged mishandling of the crew of a so-called ‘nationalist’ TV channel in the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus, and the subsequent booking of 14 students on charges of sedition, is a classic example of this persistence.
We are told by hyperventilating TV anchors that AMU is a hub of terrorists and anti-nationals. Haven’t we heard this before? The modus operandi is even simpler and more obvious than it was when used on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) three years earlier.
The intent to create mischief at the AMU campus is not a new fable. In recent years, there have been multiple attempts at maligning the university. Whether over its portrait of Jinnah (on a wall in the students’ union hall) or the baseless news of food being unavailable to non-Muslim students during Ramzan, AMU has been the target of one of the most potent anti-minority campaigns in independent India.
As an alumnus of AMU, I am privy to campus culture, and so feel it appropriate to make a few points.
By no stretch of imagination can the AMU campus be considered a haven of liberal thought or free will. No, it isn’t a JNU. It is also not a madrasa training its students in the tenets of Islam.
AMU is as liberal or as radical, as patriarchal or as feminist, as conservative or as modern as any other university of the country.
A quick glance at available data reveals that the representation of women teachers, the proportion of female students, the number of research papers published, student placements, notable alumni and other parameters of AMU’s achievement are the same or better than at other central or state universities.
You may point out that I have left out the ‘number of Muslim students enrolled’ at AMU, as a measure of its so-called obscurantist thought. Yes, a rough estimate shows that 60-65% of students enrolled in AMU are Muslims. Should that not be a reason to worry, when the present political dispensation is imagining to convert it into a Hindu rashtra?
A bit of arithmetic should explain this trend. The population of Muslims in India is 172 million, or about 14.2% of the country. The representation of Muslims in most educational institutions is dismal. Only 13.4% of Muslims go for higher education. Only 4.8% are graduates.
In this gloomy state of affairs, AMU becomes a magnet for young Muslims. We may call this phenomenon “educational ghettoisation”. This ghettoisation is multi-factorial, working both on merit and favor as anywhere else. The emergence of AMU as an educational ghetto is not concern for Muslims alone, but for Indian society as a whole. Ghettoisation in any form is a collective social failure.
What compels Muslims to choose AMU as their alma mater? Probably the same factors that operate when a Muslim couple is refused a rental house in the country’s metros.
You may be rolling your eyes at my analogy, but the fact remains that ghettoisation, whether in a neighborhood or in education, operates in the presence of prejudice. Campaigns of collective hatred against Muslims in the last four-and-a-half years have only fortified this phenomenon.
Let’s understand that the murderous attacks of cow vigilantes are not merely meant to end cow slaughter, but to instill fear. They aim to limit their access, in housing, education, and other aspects of social and political life. This is fascism’s victory.
What should the AMU students do?
They need to show restraint and patience. It is essential that they see through the agenda of hostile channels and throttle their efforts of provocation. This would be the greatest frustration for the fascist brigade.
Equally important, they must keep getting stirred up by injustice around them. The world over, the strongest resistance to authoritarianism has come through institutes of higher learning. The students of AMU have a golden opportunity to align with their cohort at JNU, Jadavpur University, the University of Hyderabad, Allahabad and other institutes that have seen an assault on their values and freedoms.
To be relevant in the time of authoritarianism, it is essential to remember what Paulo Freire, the greatest educationist of our times once said:
[E]ducation either functions as an instrument… to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system, and bring about conformity, or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.
Shah Alam Khan is a professor of orthopaedics, AIIMS, New Delhi, and the author of Man With the White Beard. The views expressed are personal.