AMU’s misleading statistics hide discrimination against aspiring women undergraduates

Image: Indian Express

What does one say when a prestigious minority educational institution chooses to hold back the bright sparks among Muslim women even as the community rightly complains of the “institutionalised discrimination” as documented by Sachar Committee?  

It is well-known that Indian Muslims lag behind educationally and socially. Some years ago, the Sachar Committee appointed by the then prime minister highlighted in its report that Muslims who are the largest minority in India live in poverty, economic, social and educational backwardness. They also noted that avenues for higher education are not available to Muslim students.
They presented a dismal scenario based on the nominal numbers of Muslim students in institutions of higher learning including various universities, IIMs, IITs etc. They also found that only 4 out of 100 Muslims are able to become graduates. They came up with a set of elaborate recommendations to address this situation.
But the most significant question is how mindful is the community about the need for education and specially girls’ education. For, no community can educate itself unless the girls and women in the community are able to educate themselves. It is in this context that we need to reflect on the recent news about the scenario pertaining to girls education at AMU (Aligarh Muslim University).
The rules for girls in the campus are so sacrosanct that despite the national outcry on the library issue and the High Court Judgement against the practice, the university continues to deny “gender neutral access” to the undergraduate boarders of Women’s College by insisting on its Sunday outing rule.

Noted historian Prof Irfan Habib has spoken out against discrimination of girls at AMU. He was voicing the concerns of several faculty members, students and the whole community when he made these remarks. His concern about girls’ education is shared by many. It also raises the question: if Muslim girls cannot get their entitlements, equal right to education and justice in the historical AMU then where can they go? Not only this, as pointed out by Prof Habib, this kind of discrimination is unique to AMU and Muslim girls or any girls approaching other universities do not face this kind of discrimination.
The problem lies in the details. Under-graduate admissions to girls in regular BA, BSc, BCom courses are open only in the Women’s College. The Women’s College has very limited number of seats compared to the seats in the departments where boys only could be admitted. Only “professional” courses and some other courses where logistics require co-education were opened up for girls.
Although unbelievable, the girls cannot compete for the general courses other than the ones in the Women’s College. Thus the undergraduate regular courses in the university (except for few) are exclusively for male students. Besides, as the undergraduate girls’ education is confined to the Women’s College, the admission cut-off remains quite high for girls compared to boys.  See the table worked from the Annual Report 2011-12:
Annual Report 2011-12
(Aligarh Muslim University)

CLASS XI (PCB)240240
CLASS XI (Com.)60180
CLASS XI (Arts)120120
Women’s College  
BSc (Home Science)30NA
BSc (Hons) Biochemistry2030
BSc (Hons) Botony3540
BSc (Hons)Zoology4040
BSc (Hons) Chemistry60120
BSc (Hons) Geography2045
BSc (Hons) Geology20100
BSc (Hons) Mathematics20120
BSc (Hons) Physics15120
BSc (Hons) Statistics2030
Commerce Stream  
BCom (hons)80180
Arts Stream  
BA (Hons) Arabic1020
BA (Hons) Communicative English1515
BA (Hons) English3040
BA (Hons) Fine Arts2015
BA (Hons) Geography2050
BA (Hons) Hindi2540
BA (Hons) Linguistics2020

The logic seems to be that if undergraduate women students have their separate College, they do not have entitlements in the university overall. Some logic this! Every train in Indian Railways has a womens’ compartment. But does this mean that women can be barred from seats in all the general compartments?  This is precisely what is happening in AMU. Yes, it is a bit hard to believe!
It seems the policy of not allowing undergraduate women students the option to choose courses in the main university is based on the university’s insistence to maintain the structural separation of men’s and women’s campus at the undergraduate level. This separation is part of its century old legacy when purdah requirements for Muslim girls necessitated the institution of women’s learning to be thoroughly secluded.
The ‘Abdullah Hall’, the hall of residence for the undergraduate students within which the Women’s College is situated continues to be thoroughly guarded and secluded from the main campus with strict living rules for women boarders. Unbelievably, the women boarders of the Hall are even today not allowed out of the Abdullah Hall campus except on Sundays (with occasional concessions). It was on account of these strict restrictions on the movement of the women boarders that the university had long denied the undergraduate students’ access to the Central Library. Astonishingly, when the matter of discrimination in library access came up it was sought to be justified as due to “roads not safe for women” and “lack of infra-structural facilities” etc.
From all accounts the rules for girls in the campus are so sacrosanct that despite the national outcry on the library issue and the High Court Judgement against the practice, the university continues to deny “gender neutral access” to the undergraduate boarders of Women’s College by insisting on its Sunday outing rule. Special arrangements were made to convey girls by bus in the early mornings on Sundays only. Girl students wishing to visit the library on weekdays have to seek special permission from authorities!
In recent days when the issue of discrimination in seats for undergraduate women students was raised the administration issued a denial. According to media reports, the vice-chancellor has said, “There is no discrimination. Our percentage of girls is 42 percent. We are building more hostels for girls.”
Just as at the time of central library issue, the administration now dishes out the percentage of women students in the university courses which are co-ed. If the women students in these courses have a good percentage, they have reached there through competition and girls everywhere are doing very well. The problem is that the university cannot restrict the undergraduate regular course girls to particular number of seats and keep larger number of seats only for boys. These ways of detracting raises a question mark about the mindsets of those who are in charge of policy at such a premier minority institution.  
There have been voices of students and teachers from the campus raising these issues of discrimination, hardships and moral policing of girls under the pretext of disciplining them. These notions are extra-constitutional and cannot stand any scrutiny. 
A paper co-authored by Zeba Imam and Shadab Bano, Patriarchy, Community Rights and Institutions for Education: Counter Discourse and Negotiation for Right, raises several fundamental questions over the “normality” of covert forms of discrimination in this historical institute which is seen as a bastion of modern Muslim education. They go on to raise the larger issue as to whether minority institutions need necessarily maintain the gender hierarchies based on patriarchy. Should girls from the minority community continue to be second class even within the community educational spaces?
AMU is an autonomous institution fighting to save its autonomy in the face of a political onslaught which threatens to take away its minority status. But should their policies and regulations continue to deny autonomy to the girl students is the larger question. In that sense, though an institution of higher learning, AMU is so similar to the dominant bodies of the orthodox Muslim clergy who have time and again given calls for preservation of male hegemony over Muslim women in the name of minority rights guaranteed under the Constitution! 
The writer is among the founders of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.



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