‘There is more intolerance on Muslim campuses than elsewhere’
April 8, 1995
On February 25, 1992, Professor Mushirul Hasan was appointed as Pro-Vice Chancellor, Jamia Millia, a central government-run university in Delhi. But he has been unable to step onto the campus since April 22, 1992, after a violent agitation was launched against him by a section of students obviously backed by self-styled Muslim Politicians.
His crime? When asked by Louise Fernandes, a freelance journalist and wife of Union minister Salman Khursheed, for his comments on Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, he re lied that though he agreed that The Satanic Verses had greatly hurt Muslim sentiments, he was in principle opposed to the banning of books. It was widely suspected at the time that in order to keep Jamia, under control of the Khursheed clan, Salman had devised a devious plot to oust professor Hasan.
Eight months later, on December 4, 1992, he returned to the campus on the specific instructions of the Vice Chancellor after a central government appointed Committee “exonerated him of all charges". But he was again brutally assaulted by a section of students and has since not been able to step inside the Jamia campus.
It is now three years since professor Hasan was hounded out of Jamia. In an exclusive interview to Combat, he spoke on the failure of the central government to protect his fundamental right to teach, the meagre support he received from liberal Muslims and the trauma that he and his family had to undergo because of fanatics acting in the name of Islam.
What is your position vis-a-vis the Jamia today?
My position today is the same as before. I wear the crown without the jewels. There is a minor difference. Earlier, for almost a year, between April 1992 and April 1993, I used to function as Pro-Vice Chancellor from my house. But how even that has stopped. My salary is deposited in the bank.
It must have been very difficult for you…
It is keeping a teacher away from his students. Its like keeping a journalist away from writing. And I liked being there. I enjoyed campus life. Personally, I am fortunate because I travel a lot, visiting other universities. And I write. But it’s just not the same.
What is the way out?
Its time perhaps, time now that this issue gets resolved once and for all. And the only resolution is for the government and the university administration to say that it is not in the interests of the institution that I should return. I’ll quit then. Three years is a long time, I’ve made my point. But I’m not going to quit on the sly. Because beyond a point, you are not fighting for yourself. It becomes a cause. So that such treatment cannot be meted out to a fellow-teacher again.
What makes you feel that such an episode will not recur?
An agitation such as the one launched against me, or the assault might take place. But those responsible will not be able to launch such an agitation with the certainly that their intimidation will Lead to a person's ouster on similar grounds.
People have seen that there is a liberal secular opinion in this country that does express itself one way or the other. And which does matter.
I also think Muslim institutions are slightly more sensitive now to these kinds of things than they were ever before largely because their image has been sullied. They feel wary, I suspect, of taking more strident positions.
Another thing we have to face: such an episode would never happen on a non-Muslim campus. I say this with due consideration. I have been living on this campus (JNU) for a very long time, been part of other universities. Look at the positions taken after the demolition of the Babri Masjid by senior academicians. But I haven't heard of a stir against Romila Thapar or S. Gopal. Have you? That is something we at campuses like Aligarh and Jamia must be sensitive too
What do you think are the reasons for this?
I have a thesis on this, so I won’t go into elaborate details. But there is intolerance, much greater intolerance on Muslim campuses than elsewhere. There’s no doubt about it.
It’s actually based on a certain fear, a specter that haunts educated Muslims. Even a critique that is not even remotely connected with religion is still perceived as an assault on their
belief. This has its global implications with the kinds of things happening to Muslim Societies all over the world.
Among the faculty at Jamia who had signed a signature campaign in your support there were many Muslims, were there not?
Oh yes. Out of the 135 signatures in my support, there were many Muslims who signed; some of them were devout Muslims. And those were difficult times, when even those members of the faculty who supported me received intimidating threats.
Many of the faculty even today stand by me, except for a handful who have succumbed to the pressure. Ironically, barely hail a dozen faculty members from the Jamia and a handful of students held the university to ransom.
But when I speak about the liberal Muslim, I mean respected figures from all over the country who have not come out strongly in support.
Last year, in 1994, an action of Dr. lrfan Habib from the Aligarh Muslim University remain a source of great disappointment to me. I received word from him that I should not attend a meeting of the History Board of the university since the Jamaat-e-lslami had threatened to disrupt it if I was present and this would delay Habib's election or selection as Emeritus Professor! The irony is that I was not planning to attend anyway.
These liberal and secular Muslims simply don't have the guts to take a public stand large1y because they are located in a set-up where they feel constrained, their constituency is limited, they are placed in minority institutions.
What about support from other liberal secular quarters?
Earlier; when the controversy began, liberal and secular groups very actively supported me...but you know how things fizzle out, memory is short.
Apart from groups, and individuals, the media in general and people from the media 'have been consistently writing in support -- I find this abiding interest very comforting.
But, all this is very good, but how does it give back my fundamental right to teach and go to the campus? If liberal secular opinion outside the campus had sustained its opposition to what was happening and were repeatedly to intervene, probably something could have happened.
Which is the main group behind the opposition to your return?
It’s very hard to tell because students come and go. But the sad and the strange thing within Jamia is that though the student population has changed, the Issue lives on.
After the agitation was launched in April 1992, what was the exact shape that it took?
Oh God! That was a terrible time. First of all they put up vulgar and crude posters all over the campus calling my mother a whore! The poster said that if Mushirul Hasan has the right to freedom of speech we have the right to call his mother a whore.
Every Friday after afternoon prayers at the mosque, they would burn my effigy outside.
Every evening, for three months, they would have torch light processions through the locality in and around Jamia, shouting slogans, hurling abuses.
Then there were these nasty phone calls threating every night that continued for a long time…
Was there outside support to the agitation against you?
Absolutely, no doubt about it. There used to be 4,000 -5,000 people who would gather on the campus and the locality in the evenings. These meetings would be addressed by political leaders of all hues. Obaidullah Azmi, Mohammed Afzal and Shahabudin, all from the Janata Dal then, attended and addressed these meetings.
In fact, in June '94, V.P. Singh addressed a press conference in which he asked for my resignation. Bukhari, too attended. Besides, in his khutba at the Jama Masjid, after every Friday prayer he used to call for my resignation, and say very vile and violent things. That was the time we were really ‘scared. We would be glued to the .television wanting to know what he has said because it mattered, him addressing a congregation of 10,000 people saying violent things.
Since the Jamia is a central university like the JNU or the Delhi University, is it not the direct responsibility of the Central government to have you reinstated and ensure your protection?
Yes, entirely. It was a central government minister who appointed the Committee after the agitation against me was launched. The statements in Parliament on the Jamia affair were made by then Union minister, Arjun Singh.
Doesn't the culpability of the government also lie in refusing to act against all those political leaders who made incendiary speeches exhorting students and others gathered to violence against you?
Absolutely, There is documented evidence on all this still available. 1 was in genuine danger because of their speeches and despite this, the volatile situation was allowed to continue.