When it comes to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and its concept of an ‘outing’ for its female students, it feels like time has turned back two centuries.
The year 2020 has been ripe with challenges for every person across the world in the face of the spread of the novel coronavirus. Most people have been shuttered at home due to a fear of contracting the virus.
At the Begum Azeez Unnisa Hall (BAN) of AMU – the hall of residence for female postgraduate students and research scholars – the constraints have been double-fold. Over the past four months, the hostel administration has enforced a strict lockdown on the residents of the hostel even as students in other hostels were allowed to step out for necessities. Even requests with genuine reasons were turned down by the wardens.
Forced evacuation of hostels for female students
Initially, as it became clear that COVID-19 was here to stay, the university started issuing notices advising students to leave the hostels, but the clause wasn’t mandated.
Each time, the BAN administration would circulate notices asking girls to vacate the hostel even as all the other halls of the university housing male students continued to function smoothly.
When this tactic didn’t work, the provost decided to call in students individually and threatened them to leave. She even ordered the female staff to perform a pat-down search of the students to check for phones out of the fear of being recorded.
Girls from Bihar, Assam, West Bengal, and other flood-ridden states were forced to move to private hostels as they couldn’t go back home. Some decided to travel by boat to reach their states as all air and land travel had been suspended due to the floods.
Gender discrimination against female students is very much visible when perceived in contrast with the male students – who neither had to vacate their hostels nor stay constrained to four walls since the lockdown came into effect.
Socially constructed educational hierarchy
A handful of students from BAN were then shifted to Sarojini Naidu Hall, which is also called ‘Summer Hostel’ because it is open during vacations. The hall houses MBBS students, most of whom are interns at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital, along with other students from diverse fields.
The interns can go out seven days a week, irrespective of where they are going. The non-MBBS students, however, are asked things like “how can I believe that you are telling the truth?” and “why don’t you ask an intern friend to get it for you?” when they lodge a request for an outing.
Thus, adult girls belonging to diploma, postgraduate and doctoral levels need to grovel in front of the administration just so they can be treated fairly.
Medical interns of this hall go to the market, parties, and even weddings under the full knowledge of the administration. When this act of injustice is questioned by the imprisoned students, they are immediately silenced. Everybody needs to purchase basic necessities, and when this matter was taken to the provost of Sarojini Naidu Hall, she simply forwarded the girls’ outing applications to the dean of students’ welfare who ordered the students to send their female staff to buy whatever they needed. Funnily enough, the only female staff in this hall are a gatekeeper and the warden herself.
Who would have thought that an educational institution would create discrepancies between its bonafide students on the basis of their course?
There’s a policy in Sarojini Naidu hall that asks all the girls leaving the hall for whatever reason to mandatorily produce a COVID-19 test report upon returning to the hostel. So does it mean that the interns, provost, warden, and the entire working staff (who cook and clean for the girls) submit their COVID-19 test reports to higher authorities on a daily basis?
Of course, such valid arguments cannot be presented in front of the hostel administration, or the girls stand the chance of being labelled “badtameez” (ill-mannered). As Aligarh observed a relaxation in the lockdown from the end of July onwards, Sarojini Naidu hall still hasn’t allowed its non-MBBS students to leave – unless they have a serious health issue.
Although the discrimination has been discussed only in the context of the pandemic, female students of AMU have a long-standing history of oppression faced in these matters.
In an era when people are fighting for equal female representation in social, political, cultural or corporate spheres, the female students of AMU have to beg the university administration to leave the hostel premises just run daily chores. What women here are facing is a serious form of oppression in terms of human rights. Why is it that male students have absolute freedom to move about? And why must the character of a female AMU student be maligned by the administration when she questions such patterns?
Apparently, us women are the only ones who can contract the virus, hence the university is overly invested in our protection. The other students (along with teaching and non-teaching staff), however, are immune so one can assume that the university must be under the procedure of developing the world’s first anti-virus against coronavirus.