Students are protesting against Jamia’s Fine Arts Department head and demanding his removal
In the session of 2016-17 when I first saw Mr Hafeez Ahmad shouting at two woman students in the Fine Arts Department, I didn’t make much of it. I was a student there, taking evening classes for a course on calligraphy in the Fine Arts Department of Jamia Millia Islamia, where Hafeez Ahmad was Head of Department (HoD). He had never taught me, but my classroom was adjacent to his office. I had heard him say, “Tum jaisi ladkiyo’n ko bas hungama hi karna aata hai.” (Girls like you only know how to create a ruckus).
I dismissed it, thinking of it as a one-off incident that might have been sparked out of anger. It was also a time before the #MeToo movement which only gained much momentum in 2017-18.
Recently, I heard of the protest going on in the same department against the same person. I read the list of grievances and complaints of mental and sexual harassment of students. The complaints included misogynistic comments, unsolicited text messages to women students, and lewd comments on women’s attire. It forced me to find out more and more anecdotes of similar nature.
And I found plenty.
Ahmad has been accused of favouritism, threatening/intimidating/insulting students, using foul language in the classroom, and negligence. Among the myriad allegations against him is also an accusation of him calling Kashmiri students’ “terrorists”.
Maheen Haidri, a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) student from 2014-17, joined the ongoing protest by BFA students against Ahmad despite having graduated two years ago because she thought she could finally talk about her own issues. “For me, the four years I spent there were devastating only because of him. I was mentally tortured and not given the marks I deserved. Targeted and humiliated, he made my life there hell. He had absurd rules in class; he would constantly morally police us and tell us to sit in a certain manner in class, would call parents and send letters at home for the slightest of things. Not just that, I always felt like he was looking at me and a lot of other women indecently. I never got good marks despite always doing well on tests. I once discussed this with one of my other professors and he told me that he had given me good marks on that paper but when I finally saw it, I hadn’t got the marks I expected. I reached the conclusion that the HoD changed the marking. He would only give marks to students who appeased him and fed him biryani.”
A third-year student who doesn’t want to be named alleged the HoD sent her unsolicited text messages and made her uncomfortable, “Sometime back, I wasn’t coming to college because I was ill. Sir used to text me addressing me as ‘dear’, ‘appi’ and ‘queen’ to ask me how I was. He would often send me irrelevant text messages and all I did was save screenshots of those messages, thinking that I will someday confront him. Since he was in charge of the entire department, I could neither block him nor could I confront him.”
Suchitra Rathore, a second-year student of BFA Applied Arts, claimed she was mentally tortured by Ahmad. She said, “He once scolded me for not bringing enough colours to class and I shot back saying that I had the ones I needed. He got extremely rude and accused me of being disrespectful towards him and threatened to fail me. Any of my classmates will attest to this, as he said it openly in the class. It scared me a lot. I was targeted and threatened for simply being straightforward.”
She added: “I once couldn’t complete my homework due to severe cervical pain and I told him that upon being asked. In response, he told me that I should do workouts and maintain myself and that I should stop staying up till 3 am in the night. He then asked me inappropriate questions such as, ‘Aap zarur raat me teen baje tak jaagte honge. Bataiye kisse baat karti hain, aap apney aap se pyaar karti hain ya kisi aur se, aap kisi ek se pyaar karti hain kisi chaar se karti hain?’ He would give unsolicited advice such as one should use perfume to become more attractive. These comments make women feel uncomfortable.”
Kulsoom Fatima, another second-year BFA Applied Arts student, said: “I was the class representative when I was in first year. I had gone to Sir’s office with Rahul, my classmate, to return the roller after the class. He asked me who all were present in the class. A senior of ours, Dipesh, was present in the class at that time, so I told him ‘Dipesh Bhaiyya’ and the rest of the class were all seated inside. He responded by saying, ‘Aap toh bhaiyya bol ke unn ke armaano’n pe paani pher rahi hain’.”
She added, “In another instance, he once openly said in class that a woman’s success depends on the number of relationships she has.”
In a letter addressed to the Dean of Student’s Welfare, among other complaints against the HoD was one of him making lewd comments on women student’s attire. The complaints were never forwarded to the Internal Complaints Committee of the university, according to its chairperson, Sabiha Anjum Zaidi. She said, “The students never came to us with their complaints. We don’t have any details of the case, but if the students reach out to us, we will welcome their complaints.”
Sanjeev Samal, a second-year BFA Art Education student, said, “Sir would object to people from Applied Arts department sitting or having lunch with students of other departments. He would especially call us and scold us for this. He constantly instilled this belief that students were superior because they were in his department, Applied Arts. He would constantly assert his power and position by harassing us with such rules.”
This was a recurring complaint. Hafsa Khatoon, a second-year Applied Arts student, accused Ahmad of making Islamophobic comments about a group of students. She said, “We were planning the cultural events in the department and I, as a suggestion, told him we shouldn’t have musical programmes immediately after tilawat (recitation from the Quran).
“He started shouting at me in front of the entire theatre and even called us ‘Taliban’ (A terrorist outfit) for voicing a simple concern. Everyone present there heard him say it. Later on, after we had complained to the VC and DSW, he told the students who had signed the application that they had been exposed.”
The Jamia administration has said that they will verify the allegations against the HoD as per the code of conduct. The administration said, “We cannot just remove the HoD at the students’ request as there is a due process to follow in this case. Both sides will be heard and action will definitely be taken if found guilty.”