When the first lockdown began in March, I left my university hostel in Delhi and have been living with my parents in Patna ever since.
A couple of weeks ago, I received a notification from Jamia Millia Islamia about the examination schedule for those seeking admission for the masters course in mass communication – which I had applied for earlier this year. As soon as I got to know about the date – October 26, 2020 – I ran to my parents and asked them to book a train ticket for me. They booked it.
A few days later, my mother called my uncle in Delhi – as I was meant to stay at his place. When my uncle heard “Jamia”, he immediately called me and asked me to not give the entrance test. When I asked him what his reasoning was, he said that the college was “not good”. He said that he had spoken to some people who had said that “Hindu girls at Jamia are asked to wear a hijab on the campus”.
I told him that this was untrue, and that I personally knew many people at Jamia and none of them had ever been asked to wear a hijab. He became passive aggressive and said, “Tum apne mann ki ho, jo karna hai karo. Sabse hoshiyar tum hi ho, baaki media aur log toh pagal hai (You have your own mind, do what you want. You’re the smartest of us all, the rest of the media and all of us are crazy).”
The same day, I overheard my mother talking to my maternal grandfather on the phone. He also asked her not to send me to Jamia because it is a very “bad college”.
I argued and told them that Jamia is one of the top universities in the country – in the recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Jamia jumped ranks from 19 to 12 this year. But no one believed me despite real facts staring them in the face.
I don’t think the hijab or the college being “bad” is the real reason behind my family’s resentment of the central university. It is more about Jamia being an institution where a majority of students are from the Muslim community. And, over the past few years, the mainstream media has been portraying institutions like Jamia, Aligarh Muslim University and Jawaharlal Nehru University in a bad light – a message which reached a fever pitch with the anti-CAA/NRC protests as more and more students joined the ranks of protestors.
I had never heard my parents say anything about Muslims, but a lot has changed over the past couple of years. I now see them badmouthing Muslims all the time, talk about caste and religion – and all this is because of what they watch and read in the mainstream media, most of which is misinformation that has been twisted to suit a saffron narrative. My uncle might have read or seen fake news about Hindu girls being forced to wear hijabs somewhere in the news or on an online portal.
I don’t know what kind of society we are living in – I feel sad and broken watching my family members believe false rumours day after day. Fake news has destroyed everything – nowadays, people believe anything and everything with closed eyes.
As for me, I don’t know whether I’ll clear the entrance exam, but I will not bow down. I am going to go to Delhi to write the exam no matter what. That’s how change starts.
However, I also feel scared as I send my story out in the world. I am particularly scared of relatives who say stuff like “Ghar ki baat ghar me hi rakhni chahiye (matters of the family should be kept within the family).”
But I will not stop, I will not keep quiet – for I know that this isn’t just about me, it’s about all the other applicants who might be in a similar boat as I am in at the moment. I just want to tell them – speak up, you are enough for yourself.
Shivani Jha has recently completed her bachelors in journalism from Delhi School of Journalism.
Featured image credit: Jamia official website