Madiha Shakeel has been humming “Dayar-e-shauq mera, shehr-e-arzoo mera,’ the Jamia tarana since she was a child. The 24-year-old student of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) told The Quint, “My grandfather and my parents too studied here. Jamia is an emotion, it’s home… But now everything is changing.”
On 26 September, the Jamia Proctor’s office issued a notice that prohibited assembly of students and faculty, both in and around the campus, based on a police order – a move that earned criticism from both students and faculty.
Before that, on 14 September, Safoora Zargar, a student who was pursuing M.Phil in the Department of Sociology, was “banned” from campus by Jamia administration, 19 days after she was denied extension by the University to complete her degree.
Zargar was a part of the anti-CAA protests in 2019-2020, and was also imprisoned briefly for her alleged involvement in the northeast Delhi riots of 2020 in which 53 people were killed.
The Quint spoke to multiple students, former students, and faculty members of Jamia about the changing nature of the university, and if the campus is still a democratic space?
’Want Proctor to Resign After’: Jamia Teachers’ Association
The “prohibitory” order that Jamia issued on 26 September came a week after the Delhi Police issued notice that “Section 144 of the CrPC is imposed in the Jamia Nagar area from 19 September to 17 November.”
The issuing of this notice coincided with the Popular Front of India (PFI) raids across cities, the onset of festive season, and multiple protest calls by Jamia students and teachers over varying issues.
Professor Majid Jamil, President of the Jamia Teacher’s Association (JTA), told The Quint, “We condemned this notice and asked for the Proctor’s resignation over this. We have also written to the Vice-Chancellor about it. Trying to implement Section 144 inside campus is itself an illegal practice.”
The JTA had planned a protest to put forth certain demands of the teaching staff at the University on 27 September – a day before the notice was issued.
“Our interpretation is that issuing the notice a day before the protest, and not a week in advance when it was actually issued by the police, was a deliberate move to stop our peaceful protest march,” said Professor Jamil.
In agreement, Professor Adil Mohammad of the Department of Education, Jamia, said this notice is the university’s way of “making a clear statement.”
When news broke out that section 144 has been implemented in southeast Delhi, including Okhla where Jamia is situated, many news outlets connected this to PFI raids. The Delhi Police, however, had clarified at the time that the two are not related.
“Jamia’s image was being maligned again and again but those of us who either study here or teach here had little clarity on why section 144 had been issued at all,” said Dibya Jyoti Tripathi, a Jamia student.
“It's not just the police, the CRPF is also stationed around the campus, which is not normal. Since the anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests, students have anyway become more sceptical of the police, as we witnessed police brutality first-hand,” said Arham Ali Khan, a former Jamia student and resident of Jamia Nagar.
This heavy police presence has obviously not gone unnoticed by students.
It’s like you are at home but you still behave the way outsiders (police) want you to. The entire area is constantly being watched, and it’s like an open jailFaraz Shams
Faraz Shams, a former student of the physiotherapy department at Jamia, lives in Batla House, near the Jamia campus.
'Administration’s Reaction to Zargar’s Situation Conflicts With Foundations of Jamia'
Several students and former students of Jamia told The Quint that the liberal atmosphere that the University was always known for has slowly turned hostile towards any forms of dissent.
This became rather evident in the way the administration approached Zargar. The M.Phil student had asked for an extension to finish her degree but was denied. The administration had stated that Zargar was denied because her "application was late and her performance was unsatisfactory."
Soon after, the Chief Proctor issued a notice which called for a ban on Zargar on campus – “It has been observed that Zargar (ex-student) has been involved in organising agitations, protests and marches on the campus against the irrelevant and objectionable issues to disturb the peaceful academic environment with few students... In view of above, the competent authority, for maintaining peaceful academic environment across the campus, has approved campus ban on her.”
“I think that Zargar’s case was a special one. She was fighting a long legal battle and facing the harassment of the government. In such circumstances, on humanitarian grounds, the technicalities and rules should have been kept aside. I think that she should have been given an extension by the Jamia administration in this case,” said Javed Ali Khan, a Samajwadi Party MP, and a former Jamia student.
For student Dibya Jyoti Tripathi, who hails from Orissa’ Rourkela, Jamia represented a “democratic space,” and that’s why he desired to study here.
“But post anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests and COVID-19, the administration has only tried to stifle democratic voices that come out of here. We are hearing a lot of ‘mahaul theek nahi hain’ (the situation is not favourable). Even the protest graffitis that were made in and around the campus have been painted over by the authorities,” said Tripathi.
Samajwadi Party MP Khan alleged that “ever since the BJP came to power, the process of depoliticising university campuses has been going on.” He told The Quint, “Instead of democratising the campuses, they are being depoliticised.”
Jamia was founded in 1920 by Mohammad Ali Jauhar (activist and prominent leader of the Khilafat movement), Hakim Ajmal Khan (physician), Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari (former president of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League), Abdul Majeed Khwaja (lawyer and educationist), and Zakir Hussain (former President of India and educationist) under the presidency of Mahmud Hasan Deobandi.
The emergence of Jamia was supported by Mahatma Gandhi, who often wrote letters to Ansari, one of the founders and Chancellors of Jamia.
“During the British rule, Jamia’s students and teachers together participated in the non-co-operation movement on the call of Gandhiji in the late 1920s. Jamia came into existence because of these movements. It is a product of dissent. So, all of this is very unhealthy for Jamia’s health and environment.” said Dr. Shafaat Ullah Khan, former student and an employee at Jamia.
On 15 December 2019, the Delhi Police forcefully entered the Jamia campus during a confrontation with student protestors. Around 100 students were detained and many more were injured and hospitalised.
“You can say that Jamia is like a mini-India. Whatever is happening here now is just a reflection of the general attitude that has taken precedence in India. Once we went through the terror of 15 December, any illusions of safety we had when it came to the Jamia campus were shattered. All of it had been hijacked,” said former Jamia student Aman Pandey.
Meanwhile, former student Shams pointed out the hesitation several students feel about speaking up after witnessing Jamia administration’s response to the situations that arose during the anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests.
“It was never like this. Jamia was for its students, it belonged to the students, but now it is owned by the administration. Now, the students can only come, study and leave” he said.
Memories of Jamia
Samajwadi Party MP Khan, who was a student of Jamia in the late ’70s, recalled his own campus days. He said, “In our era, even if one police personnel entered the campus, a huge ruckus would be created. The proctorial department and the police had to clarify their reasons.”
Things are different now, as a series of incidents have in the last few years have shown. Some former students of Jamia told The Quint that they are not surprised with how the campus has changed.
“A place that felt democratic and just like any other university has now been turned into a tamasha (mockery),” said Aman Pandey, a former Jamia student. Many former students spoke about those days when Anwar Jamal Kidwai was the Jamia V-C from 1978 to 1983.
Former student Arham Ali Khan also added, “When he was the V-C, I had heard stories of how he would often meet students at the food stalls in front of Jamia. He would talk to them and hear their problems but now, it is practically impossible for us to meet the VC. There’s a saying in Jamia that when someone wants to see the administration, people say chappal ghis jaatey hain (our shoes will be worn out).”
Dr. Shafaat Ullah Khan, who joined Jamia's school as a teacher in 1975 and then later enrolled himself in the University, pointed out the “huge difference in the atmosphere of Jamia.”
He used to be the joint secretary of the Students’ Union of Jamia when he was a student here in 1976. He said, “I used to be in constant touch with the V-C and the registrar, finance officer, and the PRO of the V-C. I never had to take any appointments from them. Jami was like a family, and protests of the students were taken seriously.”
MP Khan too was at Jamia when Kidwai was the V-C. He said, “We were lucky that when we were studying here, there were two good V-Cs in that period – AJ Kidwai, an educationist and a former foreign services official; and Professor Ali Ashraf, a distinguished professor of political science.”
Khan said that both were “accommodative, democratic and liberal.”
He said, “They made every possible attempt to resolve any issues that students brought up. They never adopted an approach of enmity towards the students. In recent times, the Jamia administration has completely mortgaged the autonomy of the university to the instructions and in favour of the interests of the government.”