The prestigious Aligarh Muslim University, it seems, has added another item to the list of things which most anxious academic institutions suspect can 'distract' students. And the item is 'women'.
If a new report is to be believed, women, in the books of the AMU authorities, fall under the same category as cigarettes and alcohol, that are traditionally considered as distractions for the youth. According to a report in The Times of India, the AMU VC turned down a plea from the students of the Women's College to access the Maulana Azad Library saying that by doing so, they would 'attract' more boys.
It must be pointed out here that the library has a seating capacity of 1300 and has just 12 seats reserved for women.
While Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah, the VC of AMU feared that there would be 'four times more boys' in the library if girls were allowed, Women's College principal Naima Gulrez had this to say: "We understand the demand for access to the library. But have you girls ever seen the library? It is jam-packed with boys. If girls were also to be present in it, a discipline issue might crop up."
The report states that students from the Women's College don't have access to the library since its inception. Women's students unions in the past had demanded entry to the library, in vain. The library is considered better stocked than the one in the college for women.
TOI quotes the president of the students union in the Women's College, Gulfiza Khan as saying, ""We are students of Aligarh Muslim University. We, too, should have the benefit of accessing the famous Maulana Azad Library. The library in the Women's College is not enough. If space is a problem, we can just issue books and not sit in the library."
Now HRD minister Smriti Irani has said that the VC's quotes insult women.
With this absurd decision, the AMU has not only set its clock back to the dark ages, it gives out some rather dangerous messages to the student community and basically anyone who bothers to follow the university's politics.
Firstly, it lends a sense of legitimacy to the idea of the woman as a object - one that distracts and takes focus off academics. Also, when the university VC declares that men would throng a library just to ogle at women, it places the responsibility of the phenomenon on the women. It doesn't question the men - who they suspect will flock to the library - and their intentions of using the library. It suggests that women will be the reason that the said men will be compelled to misuse the library.
Secondly, it infers that the only kind of relationship possible between grown men and women is one of a sexual nature. While it is true that under normal circumstances men and women in colleges and universities engage in relationships, flirtations etc etc, it is preposterous to suggest that this is the only way men and women can or will engage with one another.
Thirdly, even if sexual relations were to take place (and we all know they do) it is important to remember that the students involved are consenting adults, so there is really no need for the university to step in and control them. The diktat not only questions the priorities of its students, it also doubts their intelligence by suggesting that women in a university with more men, would only lead them to engage in activities that would lead to a 'discipline' emergency.
Finally, it falls back on the old, pathetic antidote against sexual violence and harassment to ensure discipline in the campus - hold back the woman. Women in our country have been asked to not dress 'provocatively', not step out without a male escort, not step out at night alone - and AMU asking its women to not go to the library is on the same lines.
That's as legitimate as saying don't step out of your home because you don't want to get harassed by lechers. Instead of putting a strict discipline code in place which prevents men from harassing women, they have taken the short-cut blessed by upholders of patriarchy - keep the women under binds to keep them safe, apparently.
The university's diktat also raises questions about the idea of women's safety within an educational institution. If the authorities are worried about untoward incidents within a library, it also establishes the fact that they have not taken ample measures to ensure safety and security of the students.
The next time we crib about some khap banning women from wearing, say nail paint, in order to keep off the boys, let's reconsider what our educational institutions are breeding.
Update: Following the media frenzy around the alleged ban reported by the TOI, Rahat Abrar, PRO of AMU said that their ruling has been misinterpreted and women's entry is restricted because of space crunch. Avoiding the question if undergraduate women students can go to the library, Abrar said, "Undergraduates have their own library. Undergraduate girls can order books and get it in 24 hours. The boys hostels are closer to the library so they can go there anytime." Here's another clarification issued by the university.
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Updated Date: Nov 12, 2014 07:46:00 IST