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Breaking Norms & Making History, the Girls of Aligarh Muslim Univ

The Quint speaks to the women candidates who made history at Aligarh Muslim University student union election.

Published
Women
3 min read
In 2015, Kehkashan Khanam (centre) won a cabinet post in the student union election and broke a 94-year-old jinx. (Photo: The Quint)

“Girls are not allowed inside” — the murmur became a loud chant as I was making my way to the Sir Syed Hall (North). The men’s hostel doubles up as a control centre of sorts during the student union elections at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and women, even women candidates, are not allowed inside.

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The rule would make some sense if it was enforced both ways. But all the male candidates have to do is fill a form to access the women’s hostel.

Despite all of this, three women candidates were elected to the ten-member cabinet at AMU. This is the first time in the university’s 94-year-old history that three women — Ghazala Ahmad, Labeeba Sherwani and Sadaf Rasool — were elected to the cabinet in their maiden attempt.

Labeeba Sherwani will be part of a panel responsible for implementing the student union’s tasks. (Photo Credit: Sharjeel Usmani)
Labeeba Sherwani will be part of a panel responsible for implementing the student union’s tasks. (Photo Credit: Sharjeel Usmani)

"It’s a revolution,” declares Labeeba Sherwani. A student of Bachelors in Social Work, Labeeba is the youngest of the three women cabinet members.

There has been a change in the way men also think because they too are promoting female candidates. Last year, one contested and won. This year, three candidates won. 
Labeeba Sherwani

In 2015, Kehkashan Khanam was the first woman ever to be elected to the cabinet. This year the PhD student of theology, who contested the election for vice-president’s post, lost.

Speaking to The Quint before the election, she said, “Main apne bhaiyon ke vajah se yahan khadi hoon. (I am standing here because of my brothers.)”

Last time I won the cabinet post with 10,000 votes. There are no more than 5,000 women voters, which means I could not have won without the support of all my brothers.
Kehkashan Khanam
Kehkashan Khanam went where no woman had gone before when she stood for the election last year. (Photo: The Quint)
Kehkashan Khanam went where no woman had gone before when she stood for the election last year. (Photo: The Quint)

However, not a single female student could be spotted in the crowd of supporters that followed Kehkashan through the campus.

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In fact, some like Shazeen, a Mass Communication student at AMU, are all for encouraging women in student politics, but say they wouldn’t vote for them.

Personally, I wouldn’t support them. Because they can’t come (to help) at odd hours. Say someone needs help at midnight, how will she come?
Shazeen
Shazeen is skeptical about what women candidates can offer. (Photo: The Quint)
Shazeen is skeptical about what women candidates can offer. (Photo: The Quint)

“We need the women students to vote for us,” says Ghazala Ahmad who won the election this year.

There were twenty four candidates for ten cabinet posts. Of them, only three were women. Kehkeshan inspired me to stand for the election this year. If I’m among the three women contesting today, tomorrow twenty will stand.
Ghazala Ahmad
What will happen if you take your supporters and enter the men’s seating area? “They will stop us before we can enter,” Ghazala Ahmad told <b>The Quint</b>. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
What will happen if you take your supporters and enter the men’s seating area? “They will stop us before we can enter,” Ghazala Ahmad told The Quint. (Photo: The Quint)

Ghazala and other female students were seated in a women’s only enclosure at the Union Hall. The final speeches by the sitting chairs — President, Vice-President and the Secretary — were going to be made, but the podium didn’t even face the women’s seating area.

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“They don’t even address us girls directly,” says Shafaq Zahra, an English Literature student.

If there is a students’ union, they should address both girls and boys. Why are they only addressing the boys? We are not any safer by sitting in a separate area. This is not a safety problem. It’s about instilling unnecessary fear.
Shafaq Zahra
Apart from the fact that the podium does not even face the girls, Shafaq is appalled by the mess the  election leaves behind. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
Apart from the fact that the podium does not even face the girls, Shafaq is appalled by the mess the election leaves behind. (Photo: The Quint)

Still it’s been a slow yet steady progression towards increased participation of women in the student union election.

Suggestions from sections of the alumni to reserve some seats for women candidates have been met with a tepid response. But it could go a long way in weaning off the rampant regionalism that rules the student union elections at Aligarh Muslim University.

Recent election results prove that women candidates garner votes beyond gender and regional lines.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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