Say “thank you, AMU”

Recently someone wrote a good piece entitled, “Have some respect for your University...” He was referring to the month-long turmoil at AMU, the students’ strike that was started at the AMU campus and then shifted to New Delhi, where the strikers brought in students of other universities to join their agitation and held a long dharna. Some AMU alumni leveling serious charges of corruption and wrong doing against Vice Chancellor of AMU, persuaded politicians in New Delhi and the government officals to institute an enquiry against the VC. Yet others supported the students’ violent activities at AMU campus which resulted in the VC closing the university in the middle of the semester.

What is very disturbing about this turmoil is that this type of extended trouble, violence and destruction of AMU property has become almost an annual affair. Every single AMU VC in the last 30 years has faced the same type of cyclical turmoil, eg serious student violence at the campus, severe fighting among the members of AMU teaching faculty, among AMU Executive Council, among AMU Court members, among AMU Alumni organizations etc. AMU VCs in recent years have been from a variety of backgrounds, eg senior academics, IAS officers, senior diplomats, senior scholars; Muslims from north, south, east and west of India, etc etc. AMU constitution does not allow more than one 5 year term to its VC. Yet within this one term, sooner or later every single VC has faced not only turmoil and strike at the campus and much politicking, they all have faced much public abuse, actual violence to their house, their persona etc. One wonders if a certain virus has set in the body of the AMU family, those who are at AMU, those who are alumni of AMU living far from AMU for many years, yet keen to intervene and micromanage AMU affairs and play politics with AMU?

AMU is among the 10 or so old and distinguished universities in India, that are over a century old. A few instances of turmoil do occur in many universities occassionally, but no where serious disruption has become an annual affair as it has at AMU. The AMU began as a real social revolution (the Aligarh Movement) of India’s Muslim community, in the aftermath of the 1857 revolution, when under much British government oppression the degrading, harassment and backwardness of India’s Muslims had reached an all time low. AMU became a symbol of the entire Indian Muslim qaum to liberate itself from the era of despondency, despair and backwardness to regain respect in a country where they were rulers once. Thus the eyes of the entire Indian Muslim qaum were on AMU and it became the barometer of the qaum’s hopes & aspirations for redeeming itself. Muslim families in far away Northwest Frontier, Assam, Madras and Gujarat sent their brightest youth to AMU with the hope that the AMU magic and zeal will rub off on them and they will be the Muslim stars of tomorrow in the nation.

When in 1930 the British Indian government asked the Muslims to raise 30 lakh rupees in order to allow the Aligarh Muslim College to become Aligarh Muslim University, Muslims from all over India, nawabs, maulvis, brownsahibs and commoners alike pitched in with great enthusiasm to make it a reality. Even though Muslims in other parts of India also established schools and colleges in the early 20th century, somehow no other college became so much a part of the very heartbeat of the Indian Muslim qaum as AMU did, and as it has continued to be. Indeed it is very difficult to explain to somone that AMU is not a university, it is a phenomenon.

Following the Partition of India in 1947 as the financial situation of India’s Muslims suffered much decline, so did it impact AMU. After 1947 for a variety of reasons including the poor financial condition of Muslims, the poor standard of education of Muslim community high schools, some bias against Muslims, the number of Muslim youth in India’s universities declined very sharply. For about 40 years after 1947 the college tuition fees, fees for hostels, fees for other student activities at most universities remained at a level that most Muslim families could not afford. But at AMU it remained very low. Also while due to not very good schooling many Muslim youth could not qualify for admission to other universities, they could still get admission at AMU.

Indeed this one phenomenn at AMU that stretched for about 40 years until recently made sure that at least a certain number of Indian Muslim youth became engineers, doctors, scientists, academics, accountants, teachers, lawyers, judges and government officials. In those 40 years as the fierce wind of Partition savaged Indian Muslims, AMU was a rock that sheltered the Muslim qaum from being wiped out from the respectable rungs of Indian society and into total deprivation and subjugation. Indeed an overwhelming number of AMU graduates who are doing well all over the gobe today come from families whose financial condition was not very sound when they were students. It may not be far fetched to say that in some respects in those decades after 1947, AMU harkened to the Indian Muslim qaum to: “Give me your huddled and despairing and despondent youth, and I will give them an opportunity to have respectable professional careers”.

Gradually the facilities at AMU e.g. libraries, laboratories, departments have become reasonably good. And Muslim youth from poor families in India’s many moffusil towns and deprived mohallas who cannot access better universities, can still come to AMU and make something of themselves and restore a measure of dignity to their impoverished families. Hundreds of thousands of Indian Muslim youth have done exactly that and are today doing well for themselves and their families all over the world.

If, for no other reason, for this reason alone every single Muslim youth who studied at AMU has an obligation to pay a certain respect to AMU. That sense of respect demands that they do not allow anyone to create disturbances at AMU, do not cause any harm to the AMU propertry, do not harass teachers and senior Administration officials, do not allow anyone to play politics with AMU’s affairs and do not participate in events that can tarnish AMU’s image. Of course the officials and teachers at AMU owe it to themselves to treat the students with kindness and affection and consideration, as they will their own children. In fact AMU alumni owe much more to AMU. They owe it to AMU to contribute to its growth, to restore it as a center of academic excellence and to providing some tangible benefit to it.

In everyone’s life there is a time to say “Thank You” to someone who helped them succeed. I appeal to all AMU alumni and all who are presently at AMU, either students or teachers or officials that they introspect this situation and discover that they have many reasons to respect AMU and to say Thank-You to AMU. And never allow turmoil and disturbances to occur at AMU.

The writer is a community activist in Washington DC. He can be reached on:

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2010 on page no. 2

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