Aligarh Muslim University vice-chancellor Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah said on Tuesday he was not "sexist" after reports emerged that he turned down a demand of students of Women's College for access to the university's Maulana Azad Library, saying there would be "four times more boys" in the library if they were allowed in.
Shah found himself in the middle of a storm on Tuesday as human resource development minister Smriti Irani said the AMU V-C's reported remark not only hurt, but also agitated her as a woman. She termed the remark an "insult to daughters".
Irani's reaction came even as the HRD ministry on Tuesday prepared to seek explanation from Shah regarding his remark, saying it amounted to "disrespect to women".
Defending himself even as a debate raged on, Shah said: "These reports are completely wrong. I said there is no space for even a single seat in that library. We are not sexist and we also want women empowerment and certainly don't want to segregate our girls.
"In the women's college we have given grants of Rs 11 lakh so that the library could be improved with air conditioners like in the Maulana Azad library. Every book which is there at Maulana Library is already available online for the girls," he added.
A female student at the university said on condition of anonymity that the issue of women's safety could not be used as a reason for the varsity not allowing them inside the library.
A faculty member, however, said it was unnecessary to blow up the issue on gender lines. "The issue isn't that simple. There are girls at AMU who come from conservative Muslim families and then there are gender issues. So it's difficult to balance both," he said.
AMU public relations officer Rahat Abrar, too, said the decision over library access did not arise out of a gender bias. "35% girls study in AMU, much more than any other college," he said, insisting the varsity had a favourable environment for female students.