Recently, US Ambassador to India, Richard Verma was in Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central University by an act of the Indian Parliament in 1988. Addressing on “Indo-American relations” and the “anti-Muslim rhetoric” in the US Presidential campaign, he hailed the Jamia as one of the finest embodiments of India whose alumni have made “countless contributions to academia, business, media, and many other fields”.
Remarkably, the US envoy said: “I understand why even Shah Rukh Khan studied here for a time. So your reputation as a celebrity university is quite warranted!”
Congratulating the Jamia on its 96th Foundation Day, he called it “a historic institution of learning” and urged its students to “to challenge old assumptions”. “The questions and debates that shape the 21st century are first articulated not in the conference rooms of governments but in universities like this,” he said.
Certainly, university campuses are the best seats of critical thinking and freedom of expression where differing ideas are encouraged. One expresses his or her dissenting views with all liberty, dignity and eloquence. Even matters of serious contention are peacefully addressed with an intellectual engagement. But this ‘absolute freedom’ turns into ‘anarchy’ when politics is dragged into the university campuses.
The well-wishers of Jamia Millia Islamia are deeply pained to catch up with this news in The Financial Express where a Jamia Millia Islamia scholar wrote an anti-India article on slain Hijbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani for a Pakistani newspaper Dawn and flaunted it on Facebook.
It’s indeed deplorable to see such an ‘anti-India’ article in the Pakistan-based daily by a PhD scholar at the Jamia’s Academy of International Studies. Basharat Ali, the author of this strongly-worded article, praises the Hizbul Mujahideen militant castigating the Indian stand on Kashmir. He could have his dissenting view on Burhan Wani’s killing published by an Indian media outlet. There is no dearth of print and online publications in India that would have offered space for his opinion. But taking such a confrontational article in a Pakistani newspaper and then flaunting it on Facebook is untenable. More blatantly, the writer, in his biography at the end of the article, got himself introduced as a “Research Scholar at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia”. By skipping this portion, he could have caused no defamation to an Indian institution which prides itself in an age-old nationalistic character, secular history and established academic credentials.
The ferocious views expressed in this dubious and reactionary article could be the author’s own, but they do not necessarily represent the Jamia biradari (community). For, the entire edifice of Jamia Millia Islamia is based on a secular fabric laid down by the pioneers of the national freedom movement guided by Mahatma Gandhi. Such an institution which came into existence to impart secular education in full synergy with the national integration cannot endorse any devise and separatist ideas being bolstered through the Pakistani press.
Ali’s article – “I’ll never forget the day Burhan Wani was killed” – was published in Dawn on 29 October. According to the information shared by the author, the article was first published by Kashmir Reader, which has been banned by the Jammu and Kashmir government in the wake of the ongoing unrest in the Valley.
In this opinion piece, the author basically tries to buttress his point that “the Indian state’s oppression is as routinised in wartime as it is in peacetime”. He expresses his views in staunch support of the anti-India protests in the wake of Burhan Wani’s killing. He writes: "The protests were a sign of the Indian state losing all ground. The divisions that they had constructed — Shia-Sunni, Muslim-non-Muslim, Kashmiri-Ladakhi, Tableeghi-Salafi, majority-minority — to obfuscate the truth went up in smoke as the air was now incensed with songs of freedom."
Either Ali seems to be living in denial or is harbouring a conspiracy theory. The sectarian divides among the Muslims have deep roots in the Islamic ideological history. They might have been flared up by certain policies of the governments in different parts of the world. But it cannot be denied that the sectarian divides are a direct result of the intra-community ideological skirmishes creating a bloodthirsty incarnation in the 1500-year history of Islam. Remarkably, this point was precisely made by a renowned Islamic scholar from the southern Iraqi village of Ninowa, Shaikh Muhammad Bin Yahya Al-Ninowy in his talk organised by the Jamia’s Department of Islamic Studies.
Speaking in Jamia on “Islam and Violence: A Historical Analysis”, Shaikh Al-Ninowy, who is an authority on the Islamic history and theology, traced the history of the sectarian divide in Islam. He noted that “faith-inspired violence has proven much more tyrannical than even the political forms of it”. He put it succinctly that, “Religious extremism and faith-inspired violent ideologies, if not challenged and rebutted, institutionalise theoretical, verbal, and physical terrorism. The violent religious extremists erect walls of hate, xenophobia and all ungodly acts in the name of God. They commit all kinds of injustice and shamelessly attribute them to God and the religion”.
But Ali has blamed the Indian media in general without any exceptions, for all the ideological divisions among the Muslims. He wrote: “But in the newsrooms in India, it was the perennial threat that was being accused of fomenting the trouble”.
In his crazy bid to criticise the Indian media and the Indian government's policies in a Pakistani news outlet, the author went to the extent of defending Pakistan on the Kashmir conflict. He ranted against the Indian media as well as the state in these words: “Sometimes, one imagines, if Pakistan were to tectonically shift from here to Antarctica, where would the Indian state and its jingoistic media derive their narrative from? Pakistan, they said, was responsible for causing unrest in Kashmir. Who will they blame for their own failure and guilt, their own deception and debauchery?”
One would earnestly ask the author to spend a year or two in Pakistan and see, through his own eyes, how things work there. In India, he got all the liberty to voice his concerns, freely express his thoughts against the Indian establishment, that too through the Pakistani media, while at the same time pursuing his PhD and lavishly enjoying the monthly stipends provided by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India
He must be availing either the JRF or SRF fellowship (around 30,000 per month) or at least non-NET fellowship (8,000 monthly). Not only universities, even madrasas which offer only Islamic education are receiving huge funds and largesse from the HRD ministry in India. But shockingly enough, Pakistani madrasas and other Muslim seminaries and institutions in an Islamic country are deprived of any financial aid from the state. That’s precisely why they rely on the funds from the Gulf countries or only on public donations.
Basharat Ali, keep all this in your mind and take a note of introspection. You should seriously rethink your reactionary way of positioning the problem. Most importantly, you should give up viewing and judging the Indian media through the prism of Pakistani press. You are principally right in your saying that “freedom, self-determination and the right to live in peace are innate to a people”, but blaming all the Kashmir violence on the Indian state, defending the Pakistani narrative of Kashmir unrest and, of course, calling the Indian media “jingoistic” in a Pakistani newspaper is not justifiable by any stretch of imagination. Your untenable fabrication that “the country’s media manipulates the narrative surrounding what’s going on in Kashmir” is utterly upsetting. It appears from your tone and tenor that you tend to speak in the language of Pakistani media.
Remember, Dawn is a Pakistani newspaper, along with many others, which blamed India for the Uri explosion, the worst attack on the Indian Army in a decade. Most Pakistani newspapers coined the narrative that the Uri attack was an 'inside job' and, therefore, they did not call the Uri attackers "terrorists".
Soon after the Uri terror attack, Dawn published an editorial titled "Responding to a dangerous time" in which it blamed India for planning worse attacks on Kashmir and Pakistan. Now, it is not difficult to find that the impact of such blatant blame game has caught the imagination of the gullible young Indian scholars who seem to go through the Pakistani news media with an impressionable mind. It’s really distressing.
In this trying time, the Jamiaites can only howl in pain if an ‘inside element’ comes crashing down the vision of the university’s nationalist Muslim founders. Those who had a large share in the conception and construction of the Jamia were all nationalist leaders. The founding members and the initial patrons of Jamia were Moulana Mohammad Ali Jouhar, Moulana Shaukat Ali, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr Zakir Hussain, Abdul Majeed Khwaja, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan and the eminent academician, Mujeeb Rizvi, whose patronage gave Jamia its historic glory. They were all nationalist leaders of Muslims in India.
The son-in-law of Mujeeb Rizvi and a Delhi-based dastango (storyteller), Mahmood Farooqui wrote in his article in The Indian Express that Jamia Millia Islamia was a highly important experiment in nationalist education. "Founded in 1920 at the peak of the Non-Cooperation Movement, Jamia set itself up against the crony and separatist politics of Aligarh. Inspired by Gandhi and following his ideas on basic education, Jamia already had a sterling record as a secular and nationalist education centre by the time Rizvi joined….Its famous vice chancellors, Zakir Husain and Sheikh Mujeeb to name a few, and teachers, articulated an academic, emotional and theological space for the Nationalist Muslims, across the country, who badly needed this succour after the dark days of Partition," wrote Farooqui.
Recently, a senior alumnus of Jamia and president of the JMI Alumni Association, Ghizal Mahdi, wrote an inspiring article in Jamia’s directory. In his words, “Jamia has had progressive orientation and broadest possible meaning of education – one that is closely linked with the life of the nation…It is significant that despite having no assured source of maintenance, a group of people that comprised all sections – teachers, students and non-teaching personnel– left the ‘stable or comfortable’ Aligarh Muslim University, and became first Jamiaites!”.
In this article – "Who is a Jamiaite?" – Mahdi depicts a picture of how a Jamiaite should be known. He avers: "The inclusive view of life makes a Jamiaite humble, humane, honest, sincere, hard working and kind; and even his/her worst ideological critics acknowledge his/her integrity, fervour, zeal and feeling for the people at large."
I hope Basharat Ali glances through the above article in an effort to learn how to become a true Jamiaite.
The author is a doctoral research scholar in Centre for Culture, Media & Governance at Jamia Millia Islamia. He is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences and a cultural analyst. Views are personal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org