AMU library row: Media sensationalism or deep seated bias?

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Shafaqna (Shia International News Association)

A university started by a Muslim, it not only has the word ‘Muslim’ in its name, but also has a predominantly ‘Muslim’ character. And, it bars girl students from entering the University library premises as it would purportedly ‘attract’ more boys.

Perfect scenario to reiterate the stereotypical negative image of a backward Muslim community, reflected in the most regressive image of a public funded University

Except that the girls are actually allowed inside the famous Maulana Azad Library at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and on most days, they come to the Library in droves.

So why did the media – and social media – go ballistic? Was it simply a case of yet another TRP-driven sensationalism or it reflects a deep seated prejudices against the Muslim community?

On Tuesday, Times of India reported that the AMU Vice Chancellor Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah had there would be “four times more boys” in the library if girls were allowed in to the central library of the university.

If nothing else, certainly, the VC’s remark appears to be flippant and he should have been more careful in choosing his words.

But the way ToI carried that report it is an ideal case of selective and mischievous reporting. The story attempts to conjure up a stereotypical image of a regressive institution, dominated by an equally backward community of medieval mind-set, which is hardly the case. And, following the herd mentality, and of course, in an attempt to catch eye balls or grab more TRPs and hits online, the rat race began and endless discussions were held through Tuesday. Social media too was full of rapid condemnation by all and sundry, including self-proclaimed liberal Muslims.

Sadly, no one bothered to check facts or ground realities before making statements.

But, first the basics! The Maulana Azad Library was established in 1960 and AMU Women’s College in 1936. The two institutions have been functioning pretty much smoothly. Moreover, the University is in the process of digitizing all its libraries to resolve the problem of physical space at the Maulana Azad Library, the AMU said after fresh news reports about the alleged gender discrimination.

The University has not imposed or introduced any new rule regarding membership to the Maulana Azad Library, as media reports seem to mischievously suggest.

Not for the first time

What is more interesting is that this is not the first time that this particular issue has been highlighted. Even in 2012, the issue had grabbed headlines, forcing the University to issue a clarification. And yet again, the media erupted as if this was the first time it happened.

So, what are the facts of the case?

Fact 1: AMU follows segregated system of all boys’ and all girls’ education policy up to graduation level, except for professional courses such as law, engineering, medical, et

Fact 2: Undergraduate students of the Abdullah Women’s College have their own system including a library and a book bank and they hence generally don’t require to go to the Maulana Azad Library of the AMU. This is definitely not the same as saying that girls are not allowed inside the Library as it would purportedly “attract more boys.”

Fact 3: The undergraduate classes for students of the Women’s College are organized in the College campus itself, which is about three kilometres away from the main campus.

Fact 4: Various departments, Centres, academic units and the colleges including the Zakir Husain College of Engineering & Technology, J N Medical College and the Women’s College have their own well-furnished libraries fulfilling the needs of their respective students.

Basically, it is same as in any other University – from Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) to Delhi University (DU). For example, a student of Engineering may not have permission to access the library of Mass Communication at JMI, unless he takes written permission on case to case basis. Similarly, a student of an affiliate college of the DU does not get automatic access to the main University Library or for that matter library of another college, but she may do so by seeking special permission pertaining to her specific research interest, i.e. a student of Miranda House or LSR does not automatically get access to the central library of the DU.

Fact 5: The undergraduate students of these departments and colleges do not need to go to the Maulana Azad Library for general reading purposes but only when they need to refer to specific research oriented books, journals and annals.

Fact 6: Maulana Azad Library provides facilities as a reference library for higher academic and research purposes. It alone cannot cater to the needs of over 27,000 students of the University as about 5,000 to 6,000 students visit the library every day, University officials argue.

Fact 7: The girl students are, in addition, provided such facilities at their residential halls besides all the online facility through the Maulana Azad Library.

Fact 8: Research Division of the Maulana Azad Library has a remarkable attendance of girls who come, sit and access research oriented resources of the library.

For historical reasons and to promote education among girls, a separate college for girls was set up way back in 1936. An abundantly large number of girls are first generation learners. Had it not been for a separate college and over all campus, their families might not allow them to go hundreds of kilometres away for further studies. This is a sad reality, which liberals and drawing room feminists should keep in mind, when advocating ‘free mixing’ of two consenting adults in a campus like AMU.

But the First Post style of expressing outrage in typical sensational manner terming it is sexist, leading to objectification of women as sex object, is appalling. Without bothering to check facts, this news portal famous for putting sensational headlines declared No women or dogs allowed in library: AMU ban on female students is shameful.

One wonders what was more outrageous: the flippant remark by the AMU VC or comparison of women to dogs by FP! Television news channels held debates which did not help the cause either! Prime time anchor of CNN IBN, Anubha Bhosle declared it as “shocker from country’s prestigious University,” while NDTV pointed out how difficult it is still for girls to get equal opportunities even in this age!

Equally outrageous was the response of political leadership, including the HRD Minister Smriti Irani, who said as a woman she is hurt. HRD Ministry has termed it as a human rights violation and demanded an explanation from the University. Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah termed it “appalling” even as the new MoS in the Ministry Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi added that such remarks are “in bad taste and not acceptable in a civilised society.”

Now, there can be a debate on whether we should have separate school and college education for boys and girls. But is it a crime to have separate schools and colleges for boys and girls? Some of the best schools and colleges are all boys or all girls, from Doon Public School to Lady Shri Ram College.

Moreover, if there is demand from students of the women’s college for access to the University Library, some provisions should be put in place. Similarly, as the Times of India report had noted that the Women’s College Library is not well-stocked, the Library needs to be constantly updated, if that indeed is the case.

Even as the controversy raged after the rather facetious remark of the VC, the Public Relation Officer of the AMU Dr Rahat Abrar sought to put on record that “there is absolutely no issue of gender in allowing or not allowing membership to Maulana Azad Library.”

“Girl students of the University which include research scholars, postgraduate and undergraduate students (including students in undergraduate professional courses) are members of the Maulana Azad Library and they avail its facilities in a routine manner,” Abrar explained.

If only the hyperbolic media had bothered to cross check before going overboard!

Post script: AMU administration has argued that there are logistical issues and they don’t have enough space and resources to accommodate more students in the central library. On the hindsight, now that even the HRD Minster is aware of the situation, the University should take this opportunity to submit a detailed proposal for the upgradation and expansion of the library, including new bigger building, or an annex to the existing library.

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