Aligarh Muslim University’s vice chancellor lieutenant general (retired) Zameeruddin Shah, who has recently received a letter from a BJP MP not to allow ‘anti-nationals’ to speak at university events, on Thursday said that AMU would not curb ‘freedom of expression’, come what may.
“There are elements on the campus that are anti-BJP; they perceive BJP hostile for various reasons, like demolition of Babri Masjid. Criticising this government doesn’t mean they are taken as anti-national,” he said.
“University has a history where different forums have criticised almost all the political parties; we will not curb or curtail freedom of expression,” he told Hindustan Times.
BJP MP Subhash Gautam had written to the VC on February 24, asking him not allow ‘anti-government’ and ‘anti-national’ programmes on the campus.
Prior to it, BJP’s mayor Shakuntala Bharti had stirred a controversy that beef (cow meat) was being served in one of university’s canteens.The canteen attached to AMU’s Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College is closed since February 20—the day Bharti claimed beef was served there. The university, to avoid confusion, has decided to mention buffalo meat as ‘buff’ on the menu cards instead of beef.
“The mayor clearly wanted to create communal tension; she should know Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had banned beef (cow meat) 100 years ago. He did so because he didn’t want to hurt the sentiments of the majority,” said Shah while insisting that only buffalo meat was being served at the AMU.
“We all need to observe norms of behaviour that don’t hurt anyone, this is important for us to survive together as we have over hundreds of years,” Shah insisted.
Another charge often levelled against AMU, he said, was that it was responsible for creation of Pakistan. “In 1940-47 bulk of AMU students were from North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), East Bengal, West Punjab and pro-Pak sentiment was obvious then,” he said asking why people interested in this aspect didn’t speak about “my family that decided to stay on and still had strong faith in the country of our birth.”
The university is also preparing to defend the minority status of AMU in the Supreme Court. “There is a simmering discontentment in universities that their autonomy is being attacked,” he said.
“In our case, the U-turn of attorney general on minority status of AMU is worrying. People and students are deeply attached to this status, they don’t want it to be changed; any change can have serious consequences,” he said .
He said it pained him when he saw contribution of the Muslims in building this institution never being acknowledged . “Muslims collected Rs 30 lakh in 1920 or Rs 100 lakh crore in present value for this university.”
Courts have maintained that minority status couldn’t be given because the university was established by an act of British legislature. “It is fundamentally flawed; it was necessary then to get the degrees recognized.”
“Take for example a scenario where a grandson of a freedom fighter comes and asks us for pension. Will we tell him he cannot be given pension because freedom was given to us through India Independence Act, 1947 that the Britishers passed?”
The university, he said, had done enough historical research and a legal team was in place to face the court. “We have full faith in the Supreme Court,” insisted Shah.