Not all graduates from AMU are proud Aligarians. I am one of them

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Not all graduates from AMU are proud Aligarians. I am one of them

Many moons ago, I was a student at Aligarh Muslim University. I spent five years of my life there. And they were the worst years of my life.

Like a lot of other Muslim girls I met on campus, I too was sent to AMU for cultural rehabilitation. My parents, though fairly forward-looking, wanted to nullify the exposure I had had at the boarding school I went to. By the time I was in Class 9, I had learnt to ask a lot of uncomfortable questions such as - "if a Muslim boy can marry outside Islam, why can't a girl?"

Also read - Do all gay stories in #Aligarh end on a tragic note?

What I think really had them worried, though, was my rather innocuous "Can I undergo a sex change?" I was beginning to register that boys could cycle around the neighbourhood beyond sunset and life was much more fun for them.

Also that sex change was a reality.

My parents panicked. And after my Class 10 board exams, I was taken to Aligarh by my father - a proud Aligarian.

Clothes maketh a woman?

Two months later, I was in Abdullah Hall - the oldest and biggest campus for women - in a skirt, which "good girls" aren't supposed to wear.

"Padhne likhne wali ladkiyan aisey kapde nahin pehanti (girls who acquire an education don't dress like this)," the warden told me.

I couldn't understand the connection because a skirt had been my school uniform till two months prior. And I had done fairly well in my Class 10 board exams. As had my other friends who all wore skirts.

I was asked to wear a shalwar-kurta with a dupatta - an outfit I had never worn or owned. My mother bailed me out by sending me four pairs with horizontal straps on the shoulders to keep the dupatta intact.

I still remember the number of times I was ticked off for not wearing the dupatta right.

In the elaborate ragging sessions, mostly after midnight, everyone had a good time at my expense. "Bachchi banne ka shaukh hai (she's fond of dressing like a child)."

I would cry myself to sleep most nights.

Then I met fellow sinners who wore skirts and pants, and suffered insults like me.

In a time warp

While I enjoyed English classes the most (I had the pleasure of being taught by the finest teachers), there is little else about my time in AMU I can recall fondly.

I couldn't follow what was being taught because most teachers would read out notes and the class was over.

I couldn't ask questions for fear of being told "badi smart ban rahi hain aap (you're trying to act very smart)."

I still remember the teacher who taught us the five-year plans. She hadn't updated her notes in years. But we couldn't complain or protest.

By the time I was in the first year of college I was being counted among the "good girls".

Because I did not sneak out of campus on the sly to beat the elaborate permission-seeking protocol.

Because I did not have "cousins" (or bhais as they were called) who came to meet me over the weekend.

In my final year at Abdullah Hall I was made headgirl of the hostel. It was not totally unexpected because by then I had been taught to keep an eye on the girls. Even those who wore shalwar-suits. And of course those who changed into more fancy gear once off campus. Such as on the annual trip to the Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan in Delhi or the much-hyped 'Aligarh Exhibition' in the city.

Then I blundered.

Three months before I was to graduate, I agreed to go to a notorious classmate's birthday party and stayed overnight at her house.

All hell broke loose.

I was accused of being friendly with a 'non-Muslim'. The stereotype of girls in skirts or pants are bad was reinstated in that one moment. It was concluded that I too did 'bhais', drugs and whatever else 'bad girls' do.

I was no longer the headgirl. My parents were called. My mother failed to understand what the noise was about. And why it was wrong to befriend a non-Muslim girl. Before she left she made my 'non-Muslim' classmate's parents my additional guardians.

During my five years at AMU, I knocked at the Provost's door a couple of times.

Once, I wanted to learn horse-riding. Another time, I wanted to enroll in the civil services coaching centre. The Provost looked up after a great deal of time, adjusted her glasses dramatically, and dismissed my friend and I with, "Go read the newspapers first."

What I can never forget or forgive is that I wasn't allowed to go to Delhi to appear for my JNU entrance for a Masters degree. That I made it to JNU two years later, and my friend cleared her civil services exam, is sheer providence.

Regressive space

aligarh movie A still from the film

A still from the film

Sadly, over the years nothing seems to have changed.

In November 2014, AMU Vice-Chancellor Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah denied undergraduate women entry into the main library. When explaining why girls should not be allowed inside the main library, he reportedly said that if it happens, there will be "four times more boys" following the girls.

Later, he backtracked saying it was an issue of space, not discipline.

Women students have had their clothes pulled for being "un-Islamic". They have been punished for reporting sexual harassment.

One student, Asma Javed, complained about a professor in 2006 who would "invite her over to his place and offer her money". She was threatened and asked to withdraw her complaint.

In another case, Farah Khanum, a journalism student, was threatened for wearing t-shirts and jeans. She complained to the VC after two young boys snatched her shawl and sped away on their bike.

More recently, Shrinivas Ramachandra Siras, a homosexual professor, was hounded by the university authorities no end.

Siras, the subject of the film Aligarh, taught Marathi at the university. He was filmed with a rickshaw puller and his story is now at the centre of the public debate surrounding Section 377, which criminalises homosexual acts.

Siras was found dead under mysterious circumstances in April 2010.

The hall of fame

The oh-so-proud-to-be Aligarians dot every corner of the world. There are plenty of forums for them, and the event to mark the university founder Sir Syed Ahmed Khan's birthday on October 17 is a must-go for most.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when I met a bunch of women recently who are not-so-proud of the time they spent at AMU.

Like me, they said it pushed them back into another era and that they would have done far better in life had they not studied there. What also surprised me was that none of them want to send their children to AMU to study.

I'm not sure if Sir Syed Ahmed Khan would turn in his grave at this admission, or of what has become of his vision.

More in Catch - Faith, forestalled: a Muslim woman is stymied when she seeks space to pray

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Lamat R Hasan

Lamat R Hasan @LamatAyub