I made an “urgent call” to a friend back home yesterday for the Maualana Azad Library issue had cropped up again and with the BJP at the centre and the issue was likely to be presented as worse than it already is. Having been a part of the Women’s College and its residential hall, Abdullah Hall, it is also an issue very personal to me. The administration had made yet another lame sexist remark and this was the first time in years that the representatives from Women’s College students’ union spoke up for their right to access the main campus library, which also happens to be one of largest libraries in Asia. The fact that the office-bearers could speak out for this issue from the Women’s College is something worth celebrating in itself.
I was a member of the executive body of the AMU students’ union in 2011. One of the major issues that we had taken up during my campaign was of the access to Maulana Azad Library. It was at the top of the list of problems on our pamphlets. So, I understand how this must have been one of the main agendas for the campaign taken up by the representatives of the present union.
I spoke on the issue to the media in 2012, precisely, to the Times of India and I remember being careful about how I phrased my statement. I wanted the media to address the issue for what it was – a systematic administrative gender discrimination against a section of the university’s female student community. I did not want this to be made a “Muslim-cultural-approach of discrimination against women” affair. This was the one point that I had emphasised on and it was nowhere to be found in the final report. It is not easy to address the unreasonable policies of the administration because for one thing, you are held responsible for defaming the institution and tagged a traitor and additionally, the media cannot be trusted to genuinely take up the issue.
The controversy of access to the main campus library is hard to comprehend. Some say it is not necessarily a gender issue because undergraduate female students from other courses, post-graduate courses and research scholars have access to the library while others say that the Women’s College has its own library (which did not have adequate facilities at my time and probably still does not). I remember the frustration of browsing through manual catalogues only to be informed that the book did not exist or that the limited copies were all issued). Moreover, it is said to be more of an administrative issue because the library does not have enough space to accommodate all the students. I have tried to genuinely understand the problem, I have tried to trace a pattern in all the sexist excuses that have been offered by the administration, but I fail to understand the administration’s systematic segregation of Abdullah Hall from the main campus and its facilities.
Today, the girls and boys of Aligarh Muslim University protested against the bias media reporting by The Times of India and other newspapers and marched in solidarity with the Vice Chancellor. If only the students had marched against the media bias as well as the statement issued by the Vice Chancellor and in solidarity with the right of the undergraduate girl students to have access to the Maulana Azad Library, it would have indeed been a historic march.