Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
08 October, 2008
The extent to which the Indian society is getting polarized along religious lines is very disturbing. If this is the state of affairs almost seven decades after Independence, what might happen a few decades later? This is not the time to attribute responsibility to different parties or communities. This is a moment for self-reflection and for finding out what gives rise to this mindless violence.
The other very disquieting fact is how the electronic media and sections of the Hindi print media have taken upon themselves the responsibility of being the custodian of the nation’s interest. The arrogance and intolerance in their coverage reflects a very ominous trend in the history of journalism. I have experienced this recently. The Jamia encounter in New Delhi was not a big affair, it could have been easily sorted out, but it was turned into a campaign against a university. Students of the Jamia Millia Islamia University were arrested without charge, they were denied access to lawyers and even their parents could not meet them. On top of it the university was blamed and its reputation was attacked. A student of the London School of Economics (LSE) was nabbed very recently by the police — does it mean that the LSE has become a hotbed of terrorism? This is senseless.
The university’s doors are open to non-Muslims; it’s teachers are drawn from all communities. Compare our record with that of other so-called secular universities where Muslims have limited access — Benaras Hindu University, Allahabad University and even Delhi University — then what are we questioning?
I think we have to fight back. We have tolerated this nonsense for far too long. We demonstrate to the people that the media are not trustworthy and that they only sensationalize events. Jamia Millia is a secular institution funded by the Central Government. The question of legal aid is not being looked at from the perspective of a teacher’s responsibility to her students. As the head of the institution, I feel I have an obligation towards my students and I am not using the taxpayer’s money for it. The real issue is of principle. If this had happened to a non-Muslim student, I would have done the same. I am also upholding the rule of law. Why have we forgotten the principle that says that an accused is innocent until proven guilty?
In the ultimate analysis, our society, which has gone through the Khalistan movement and experienced terrorism in the Northeast, must look at these incidents in a more cool-headed manner. You can’t fight it by reacting in a hysterical manner. Our police is becoming more and more politicized and communalized. We haven’t oriented them into becoming the custodians of the secular values enshrined in our constitution. Over the past 10 years, there has been a systematic pattern — Deoband University, an institution with a glorious record, has been targeted. So has Nadvat-ul-Ulema in Lucknow. Attacking the Aligarh University is not new, despite it being a modern institution with its doors open to students of all communities. Is there a pattern in this madness? We need to reflect on these issues. The alienation is very deep and it has to stop. Instead of supporting us, which would also mean supporting an institution committed to secular values, there are attempts to undermine our secular foundations.
We are dealing with a younger generation of Muslims. I believe in liberal, eclectic and pluralist values, but I suspect this vision will not be shared by those who feel insecure and excluded, socially and culturally. Why have the guilty in Gujarat not been punished? Why? Why? Why? Why is the VHP and Bajrang Dal not banned for killing innocent Christians and desecrating their churches?
I regard myself, as do millions of others, as part of the edifice that is called India. The idea of India is my idea. There is no India without me and I will not let that change. We have already taken certain steps to counter subversive ideas that might fracture our secular society. I appeal to civil society and the media to let us live in peace and get on with our simple and innocent job i.e. pursuit of knowledge. There is a limit to what one can tolerate. Nobody dare question our commitment to education, and our loyalty to the Indian Constitution.