“I think Jamia Milia Islamia is getting too technical. You can always stop a scholar from completing their PhD saying that their progress is unsatisfactory... But this is also political," said Professor Ali Nadeem Rezavi, a professor at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) regarding the recent news of Jamia cancelling their MPhil student Safoora Zargar's admission.
Zargar, who is doing her MPhil dissertation on 'Socio-Spatial Segregation of Muslims in Urban Areas,’ had alleged on 24 August that the university had denied her extension to complete her thesis.
The 29-year-old was booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or the UAPA in 2020, and was imprisoned for her alleged involvement in the riots that took place in northeast Delhi in February 2020. She was pregnant at the time. Zargar was released on bail in June 2020.
A notice dated 26 August stated that her registration for MPhil/PhD stands cancelled, with effect from 22 August.
While she alleged that the university's denial was discriminatory, the university administration had told The Quint that Zargar was denied because her "application was late and her performance was unsatisfactory."
The Quint spoke to professors and research scholars from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi University (DU), and AMU. While many believe that the grounds for rejecting her application might be valid, they also questioned whether the university could have been slightly more flexible in this regard.
‘Was Made to Run From Pillar to Post for Extension,’ Alleged Safoora
Safoora, who is enrolled with the Department of Sociology in the integrated MPhil and PhD programme, had claimed that she had been made to run from pillar to post since December 2021 for extensions that are “easily given to other scholars in the university.”
In April 2020, she was arrested under UAPA for her alleged involvement in the communal violence that broke out in northeast Delhi in February 2020, and was granted bail in June 2020. Simultaneously, colleges across the country had shut because of the COVID-induced lockdown.
On 24 August this year, she wrote a letter to the vice-chancellor of the university that she had been facing departmental and administrative issues.
She said that as she awaited a response to her third COVID extension application, her supervisor told her that she was not eligible for such an extension and that she should apply under the women’s category.
Zargar added that she emailed back saying that she “did not receive any response to previous extension application” and that she “wishes to submit her work and avail of any extension that would be applicable to her.”
In response to this, a university official said that the MPhil dissertation has to be submitted after the completion of three semesters. After that, there is a maximum provision of two more extensions. The official said that there was no provision for a COVID extension and that Zargar had applied late under the women’s category.
In addition to this, the official said that her past reports were found "unsatisfactory."
‘Technically They Are Not Wrong But Could Be More Accommodating’
Dr Majid Jamil, president of Jamia Teachers' Association, told The Quint that Zargar was supposed to meet certain requirements, which she did not fulfil, and hence the university had to take the decision.
He said, “I don’t think there’s any special treatment but there are some channels through which she could have approached this (in order to contest the cancellation) and as far as I know, she has not gone through those channels. Students have come from jail to take exams before so it’s not like the university administration is not accommodating. We treat all our students equally and without bias.”
Jitendra Meena, assistant professor of History at DU, contested this view, and said, "The university might have been right to deny her the extension on technical grounds – that she might have missed the due date. But on humanitarian grounds, one must take into consideration that the last two years had not been easy on scholars. Since she is a Sociology student, she would require primary data, for which she would need library access.”
Due to the lockdown, the university was shut, and so was its library, making research very difficult for scholars at the time.
As professors, we are also the guardians of our students. Yes, the technicalities are important. But one must also consider what the research scholar has been through.Jitendra Meena, Assistant Professor of History, DU
Another professor of Jamia, who did not want to be named, said that there is a lot of "grey area" in this issue.
He said, “The UGC has said that each case has to be seen on a case-to-case basis. For instance, if a charge sheet is filed against me, I can even be terminated. From a point of view of humanity, it is a different matter."
On 30 August, over 150 activists wrote to the V-C to revoke the cancellation of her admission.
‘She is Being Punished for Political Activism’
Professor Rezavi from AMU said that he has seen similar cases in his university too. He said, “Unfortunately, there is a lot of pressure on universities such as AMU and Jamia, and people are denied opportunities due to their involvement in the Citizenship Amendment Act – National Register of Citizens CAA-NRC protests.”
This is happening everywhere and we are in a bad condition academically. The academic seed is going down the drain – one day there are curriculum changes, and the next day, there is a situation like this. I believe that she should be given a chance to submit. If the examiner still thinks that it is not worthy, they can reject it.Ali Nadeem Rezavi, Professor at AMU
He added, "Given Safoora’s situation – that she was in jail and then the pandemic took place – even if she did apply late for the extension, it should not have been such a big issue."
Meanwhile DU's Professor Meena said, “I believe that she is being punished for her political activism and for voicing the views of the marginalised. Unfortunately, across the country, the autonomy of educational institutes is under attack and this is finding reflection in Safoora’s case.”
What Happens in Similar Instances?
A fifth-year PhD scholar at Jamia Millia University told The Quint that under the UGC guidelines, all students were given extensions due to Covid.
The scholar said, “She might have had to apply for further extensions but she missed that deadline. Applying for multiple extensions is not uncommon. And given her situation, the university should have stood by her.”
Another professor at Jamia, who did not want to be named, drew parallels to Umar Khalid’s case.
At first glance, it looks really wrong. The first person I thought of when I read about this was Umar Khalid. Even when he was in jail, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) did not cancel his admission. So, this is very sad.Professor at Jamia Millia Islamia
Another PhD scholar of the university, who is in his fourth year, shed light on the procedures that are generally followed in such cases saying, “Jamia is among the more liberal colleges. The university administration is generally very forthcoming with such cases. MPhil students first have to submit their dissertation, and if they get 75 percent, they are promoted to the PhD course. With regards to our theses and dissertations, we are under constant supervision and we keep getting feedback from our supervisors, after which, we have review meetings with the Research Advisory Committee (RAC).”
The scholar added, “There have been multiple instances in the past where students have been denied an extension on such grounds. However, many of them have eventually gotten the extensions.”
Because the process is so accommodating, I believe that there is always scope to give the student the benefit of the doubt.A PhD Scholar at Jamia
DU Professor Meena said that since she is a Humanities students, there is no one way of determining her performance.
He said, "There can be a discussion between a scholar and the supervisor but it is a constant process and if her work was indeed unsatisfactory, she can be given feedback on how to improve it.”