On April 12, Najma Akhtar, an alumna of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), became the first woman to be appointed as vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and also of any central university in Delhi.
While many celebrated her appointment, a controversy erupted within student circles and WhatsApp groups over her past tenure at AMU. Previously, she was the Controller of Examination and the Director of Academic programmes under the vice chancellorship of M.N. Farooqui, ex-VC of AMU.
Within hours of the official announcement, a letter undersigned by a previous AMU student union president Dr S.M. Sarwar Hussain started doing the rounds on social media.
The message warned JMI’s students and faculty members against the new VC, accusing her of being involved in “institutionalised corruption” at AMU.
In 1993, M.N. Farooqi, the then VC of AMU, had acknowledged that he appointed Najma Akhtar as the controller of examination despite her ineligibility for the post, India Today reported.
A teacher, political commentator and social activist from AMU said, “We see Jamia is a sister organisation of AMU as both are minority central universities. M.N. Farooqui’s otherwise peaceful tenure was primarily disturbed by her presence. She had employed agents and armed students to maintain her position. If she employs the same way in Jamia, it would be bad.”
Salman Imteyaz, current AMU Student Union president said, “Her photos that came out clearly show the influence of right-wing on educational institutions and the rapid saffronisation that is taking place.”
Proud of Najma Akhtar being the first woman VC of Jamia University? No, I am actually ashamed of her. Akhtar has the support of the RSS. All your laurels go down the drain if you side with evil. Nothing else matters.
— Irena Akbar آیرینا اکبر (@irenaakbar) April 14, 2019
New Jamia VC Najma Akhtar receiving blessings from the RSS’ Indresh Kumar! Does it say something? Disgraceful
See the picture behind, BHARAT MATA having BHAGVA flag in place of Tri-colour
— Ikram Alam (@Alam_Badauni) April 13, 2019
New Jamia VC Najma Akhtar receiving blessings from the RSS’ Indresh Kumar! Does it say something? Disgraceful! pic.twitter.com/N3zvm1AjAW
— Rifat Jawaid (@RifatJawaid) April 13, 2019
Moreover, some activists called her appointment a political move to seek the favour of Muslim women during elections.
Shabnam Hashmi, a woman rights’ activist said, “This is simply a political appointment done to woo Muslim women and win the community’s appeasement just before elections, similar to Triple Talaq. The timing of it is highly problematic and should be questioned.”
Indresh Kumar, on the other hand, said that the criticism will only make Akhtar “stronger than before” and won’t do her any harm.
“Many people call me “Bhagwa Hindu Aatankvadi”, but I have always become stronger due to that criticism. Their abuses and criticism will have no effect on her [Akhtar] or her work,” he said.
However, he refused to divulge any details of the meeting between the two.
Kumar has been a controversial figure in Jamia since 2017 when the Muslim Rashtriya Manch – Muslim organisation affiliated to RSS – invited him for an iftaar party at the university. Back then, some students had apparently protested against his invitation, accusing him of being communal.
Kumar trivialised the agitation alluding to the large turnout of students at the event and the small number of those who came out in protest.
“Those were some 20-30 students who were protesting far from the event’s location, but a much higher number of students had attended the event and made it a success,” he said. “Whoever stands with me is disciplined, patriotic, secular and a nationalist.”
Shahid Akhtar, chairman of Muslim Rashtra Manch, corroborated his statement saying that the iftaar party was a huge success despite the presence of some “fringe elements”.
He also called the criticism over Akhtar’s meeting with Kumar “completely unnecessary” and praised the government for appointing her.
“The government should be lauded for taking such a bold step and she should be openly welcomed by all instead of being criticised. Her meeting with somebody on a personal level shouldn’t be politicised so much and if you ask me, it shouldn’t even be a matter of discussion. A wave of happiness should overcome Jamia and not some controversy,” he said.
Similarly, a senior teacher at Jamia said that the criticism is only because she is a woman and “doesn’t fit the conventional idea of a Muslim woman”.
“The fact that a woman has been appointed is a significant development and surely I believe that she can make a new beginning here at Jamia. The harsh criticism that she has received might also be by some people who are using her past to criticize a woman’s appointment at such a critical post,” she said.
In a meeting with Prakash Javdekar, Union minister of Ministry of Human Resource Development on Monday, Najma Akhtar stressed the need for filling the vacant posts in various departments and “introducing new courses” soliciting full support of the minister and the government of India.
According to the official press release, she also requested the minister for the allocation of further substantial funds for smooth growth and development of the university.
Livewire tried to schedule a meeting with Akhtar twice, but she declined. She also didn’t respond to our mail.
Featured image credit: Twitter
Ismat Ara is a Mass Communication student at AJKMCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia. Whenever she isn’t reading books or watching movies, she is critiquing them. At other times, she can be found writing about college campus and gender-based issues.