When I joined the Aligarh Muslim University in the second half of 2017, the political atmosphere had begun to change. The same nationalist party was ruling over both at State and Centre. I felt the change of political atmosphere during 3 years of graduation.
I had heard many stories of life and learning in AMU and was very enthusiastic to become part of it. When I was leaving my home for beloved Chaman, the Aligarh Muslim University, I experience more astonishing experience than expected. As I entered the University, I witnessed what I heard about this great institution of learning – its beautiful architecture, large and wide campus, greenery and plants, and sherwani wearing students and teachers. Most satisfactory thing to me was the helping nature of students and teachers. Both teachers and student give their full support in learning and obtaining education. A large number of students and its diversity was the most surprising thing to me. Before here, I never saw students in this large number.
Due to regionalism, I faced the most irritating question in these three years. Every Alig faces this question but maybe it would not irritate them. Bhai, where are you from? If the questioner does not know your place or district name then you have to explain more about yourself. In this irritation, often I used to give wrong answers.
1. The myth of sectarianism Since the past few years, national media is trying to present the University in bad colours. But the Ganga-Jamuni tahzeeb of the University always succeed to win over this national project of communalisation and hatred. There has never been any kind of sectarianism except regionalism. There has never been a conflict and issue of Shia-Sunni, Hindu-Muslim or any other kind of conflict except regionalism. Student politics is the main source of regionalism. Vote banks depend on regions and loobies. Students are not discriminated against based on their caste. In three years, neither me not any of my friend or acquaintance faced or witness caste-based discrimination. Like all other institutions, AMU too has the majority of teachers from the upper caste.
2. Library, department and books
Argentinian visually impaired writer Jorge Borges once said: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”. For me, the library was the most entertaining place in the University. The library was a place full of books, a bunch of studios people with diverse interest, the place of debate and discussion form campus politics to the libertarianism of Jermy Bentham and many more, making memories of graduate life, the struggle to secure a seat, to disturb friends by asking them for the tasteless tea of canteen.
I used to spend time only at three places- Hall of residence, department and library. Library and departments were the places of learning, reading, arguments, debates, fun and happiness and meeting place of friends. The major difference between department and library was that the former was fewer studios than later because here friends were consumers of time. At this place, friends often bring food and fruits from their homes which were the major reason behind it being more time-consuming. What else needs me. The homemade food and a bunch of friends are enough to forget the burden of study.
I have not read any biography of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan or any particular book on the Aligarh Movement. Since the last three years, I have been planning to read David Laloyed’s masterpiece book Aligarh’s First Generation but could not succeed. It feels as guilty that I did read on Sir Syed and his great initiatives.
I found two more books which tell the tale of the rich culture of the University of the second half of the twentieth century. The first one, Aligarh Ki Yadein Aligarh Ki Batein by Sayyad Masood Zaidi (1977), and the second one, Aligarh Se Aligarh Tak by Athar Parvez. These two books narrate the rich tradition of University.
Once I was enjoying the company of some senior students and as usual, tea was brought. Firstly I refused to take it. Then a student humorously said, Chai mana Karna kufr hai. His words did hit my mind and I realized that how tea is important in the life of an Alig. Tea is their one side love in which they are a loser as per rule of Ishq. They spent their money, time and thought. Just like ready to lose everything in love.
There are so many philosophies and jokes to listen on tea. Students often tell the importance of tea, its role in shaping thoughts and career. Some students spent more time at canteens and Dhabas than classroom and library. Some claims that Chai Dhabas play a more important role than classrooms. According to them, these Dhabas provide more space to speak freely, to debate on a wide range of subjects and strengthen social relations. And what one can say about jokes on tea! These jokes are as full of humour and reality as a cup is full of tea. Aligs can miss their first lecture of the day but can not miss the morning tea.
4. Ideologies: Left or Right or None
Since I joined the University, I began to read about Left politics and tried to compare it with the Right. But due to the populism of Right and capitalism, I tried to make a distance from it. I attracted more towards socialism and tried to understand it but did not fit myself on either side. I began to read about the ideas and personalities of both side and found myself at the Centre-right. I got interested to read about both sides; and like the work and ideas of JS Mill, Karl Marx, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sir Syed and Mahatma Gandhi. In this rivalry of Right and Left in my mind, one quote from one of my favourite intellectuals fits on me. ‘Inside every thinking Indian there is a Gandhian and a Marxist struggling for supremacy.’ I admire Gandhi for various reasons and I also want to deeply understand Marx’s theory of egalitarian society.
Once I asked one of my classmates which side she belongs- Left or Right. I do not lie either side, she replied. ‘Both are problematic and wrong in some ways.’ Her reply forced me to think about myself. I decided not to fall in this trap of Left and Right. But I never liked capitalism and capitalist traditions such as birthday parties, farewell etc.
5. University beyond the curriculum
Women’s College students invite some eminent women of diverse backgrounds including Arundhati Roy in 2019. Some controversy broke out and their program was disturbed by male students. Amidst this, I with one friend was standing near Maulana Azad Library, one student was defending the act of disturbance and arguing against these guests. He said that If we do not oppose them then anybody can come and impose their ideology on us. His words raised some questions in my head about the university and its role. Do universities belong to any particular ideology? Do certain guests come to impose their ideology? Do universities are bound to any particular culture, language or religion? As a member of a university, I asked myself about the role of the university, its nature and responsibility.
What is a University? University is not merely the degree distribution centre. University is a place of learning beyond strict identical boundaries. A university is a place where students become part of a diverse culture. This is the diversity of ideology, gender, caste, religion, class, region and students assimilate themselves in this diversity where they are not bound by traditional societal rules. Professor Apporvanand describes the university as a shelter of a safe home, for social and cultural refugees. Society is full of evils of many kinds such as casteism, communalism, and other ideological and identical battles. Amidst this, universities are ‘safe homes’ to live and learn peacefully with others.
The role of a university is to produce students who contain morality and justice. It should be noted that the university would not produce a robot- the thoughtless human. There should be a difference between robots and students. Students should not function like a robot, they should have their own thought, the ability to judge what is right or wrong, the ability to ask questions. Robots are computerized. They do what is set in their machine. But students should not follow blindly to anyone. They should have their reason, logic and science. University should teach them human values, justice, peace, equality etc. Steven Muller, the president of John Hopkins University once said that universities are turning out high skilled barbarians because we don’t provide a framework of values to young people, who more and more are searching for it. It is the responsibility of the universities do not produce educated barbarians who are unable to judge what is right or wrong.
Kashif Umair graduated from AMU in 2020, He studied Women’s studies at AMU.