Orthodoxy challenged

Universities are supposed to encourage thought and expression, but Aligarh Muslim University belongs to the past, with its regressive environment

A criminal case has been filed by a former student union leader of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) against three Muslim youths — Omer Ghazi, Fahad Zuberi and Nashra Ahmed — for hurting religious sentiments of Muslims. It’s alleged that the three had drinks in a New Delhi bar and posted their pictures on Facebook along with religious comments. Under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code, they can be imprisoned for two years. Their careers can be damaged. They are being terrorised into religious submission.

India is a free country, and a vibrant democracy. As a citizen, you have a right to eat and drink what you please, whether it’s beer or a banana shake. Youths also have a right to post pictures of themselves on social media. Anyone
who thinks otherwise is not Indian.

AMU Students’ Union president Mashkoor Ahmad Usmani, who said “strict action” should be taken against these youths, is not Indian. AMU proctor Mohsin Khan who issued a show-cause notice is not Indian. Nadeem Ansari, the former AMU student leader who filed the police case, is also not Indian.

Legally speaking, they are Indian citizens, and no one is taking that away. But my necessary argument is this: Usmani, Khan and Ansari think that the three youths who had drinks are not from the AMU community or from the community of Muslims. Since they think the three youths are outside their community, by the same criterion Usmani, Khan and Ansari too are not from the community of Indians. They stand for everything that modern India does not stand for.

India is a new country — 1.3 billion Indians, of which about 55 per cent are below the age of 25. These youths are a totally new people. Their ideas and attitudes are shaped by the constitutional values of individual liberty, equality and freedom of thought and action. Anyone who disagrees with this Constitutional identity of an Indian is a heretic of modern civilisation. The constitution does not empower any Usmani or Ansari to play a local thug out to police what our youths eat and drink. On the contrary, the Constitution empowers every youth to drink and exercise free speech.

Usmani, Khan and Ansari are effectively harassing the three youths: of whom only Nashra Ahmed seems to be a current student, the other two being former students. These three youths must be defended because it is their individual liberty—to think, to drink, to live their daily life as they wish—which is sought to be regulated by others. By filing a police case, Ansari is playing the role of a religious cop. By advocating strict action against them, Usmani is inciting religious mobs. By issuing a show-cause notice, Khan is complicit in their criminality.

It’s a blot on AMU that such people reside in its womb. Universities are supposed to be spheres of free environment where students can push the boundaries of their private thought and expression. On the contrary, the AMU campus has been harbouring and producing such student leaders whose minds are shut. Jawaharlal Nehru said: “A university stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever-higher objectives.”

Because Muslim youths are not adventurous enough in imbibing new ideas, Muslims are being pushed into slavery of outdated ideas and religious orthodoxies that impede the community’s educational and economic development. Progress is a function of new ideas. It is because of dated minds like Usmani, Khan and Ansari that Muslims are lagging behind other communities in adapting to change. On the contrary, Omer Ghazi, Fahad Zuberi and Nashra Ahmed stand for the exuberance of youth. It is their liberty alone that is at peril.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817–1898) wanted to introduce scientific outlook and English education among Indian Muslims. With this idea, he took many initiatives, among them being the publication of Tahzibul Akhlaq, an Urdu monthly magazine that once — only once — stood for rational ideas, and the establishment of the Aligarh Muslim University. Today, this university stands for anything but scientific thinking and rational attitude. Sir Syed stood against religious orthodoxy which Usmani, Khan and Ansari are seeking to promote among Muslims.

In present times, many schools and madrassas are running institutions where boys and girls study together in the same classroom, Numerous madrassas in Bihar and Gujarat allow boys and girls to sit in the same class. But AMU stands apart. It breeds counter-modernism. It continues to further gender-based segregation among Muslim students. It runs separate schools for boys and girls. Even undergraduate girls and boys cannot study together. It was only recently that its central library allowed undergraduate girls to sit in reading rooms alongside boys to study.

Clearly, the Aligarh Muslim University belongs to the past. It stands for absolutely nothing that Sir Syed stood for.

This article was first published in Newslaundry

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