For the last few years, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) – a central university located in the capital of the country – has been the talk of the town for being at the forefront of the fight against draconian laws passed by the current Union government. With the recent international coverage and revolutionary history of its foundation, JMI has been recognised worldwide as an active force of resistance against the rising hate crimes in India.
But here is an uncomfortable question from an angry student of this university – where does this activism disappear when it comes to queer issues and rights?
Coming from a small town, I had apprehensions about the joining the institution. There was no active queer culture on the campus, but the fact that it was located in Delhi – a city known for its cosmopolitanism – led me to join the university.
However, after spending three years here, I do not have a lucid answer to the question that is generally directed at me by my friends from outside the university: Is JMI a homophobic campus?
First, I would like to debunk claims that try to equate the reason for homophobia in JMI with its Muslim majority status. A simple survey on homophobia across all central as well as state universities would demystify this. The opportunists who try to pinkwash the issue of homophobia to spread an agenda of Islamophobia act as nothing but a barrier to the queer rights issues in the university. That said, we cannot undermine the struggles of the queer community and almost an absence of active queer politics in the campus despite a rich political presence in other spheres.
Although JMI has no active students’ union, it is still a hub of student politics with a plethora of student organisations. Barring a few, most of these student organisations that claim to be raising voices for students’ rights do not acknowledge queer rights at all. Some even display blatant homophobia from time to time.
Last year, an unknown person started a social media trend where derogatory, abusive and even violent remarks were written against the LGBTQIA+ community. While the person in question hasn’t been identified yet, some JMI students did share those posts on their individual platforms. A student from JMI’s engineering department wrote a Facebook post which read: “Listen, LGBTQ supporters, Die in your rage. We [Muslims] will never accept you.” Another JMI student tweeted saying, “What if Prophet (PBUH) and his companions kept their views to themselves. There is nothing wrong to target what is wrong. Better u guide yourself”.
These are only a few of the many venomous and obnoxious social media posts that were targeted towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Such comments resurfaced on social media this year too, making it an annual tradition of a coordinated attack on the queer community.
This has been quite triggering for fellow queer students, who saw students from their own university mocking their very existence. One of my gay friends, who has not come out of the closet yet, dealt with extreme panic attacks seeing a few of his classmates share triggering content including calls for #Whysoproud on their WhatsApp statuses. The astounding fact is that some of these homophobic students roam around the campus masquerading as ‘activists’ and also hold strong support from well-known public figures.
‘Jamia Queer Collective’
Amidst all this selective activism, Jamia Queer Collective (JQC) – a student-led queer-straight alliance – has been working to make the university a safe space for queer students since 2018. But a few days ago, the members of JQC were subjected to extreme homophobia. During a Clubhouse meeting hosted by JQC members on homophobia in Jamia, some JMI students barged in and brought their cis-heteronormative entitlement and selective morality.
One of the JQC members was asked, “How can you be a Muslim and queer at the same time?” The rhetoric of how homosexuality is a supposed sin was blatantly thrown at the face of the members. One person stated that JMI’s founding principles do not support homosexuality.
A space started by students, that meant to host a discussion on how JMI can be made an inclusive place for queer students was hijacked by some custodians of religion and morality. Now imagine this happening on the university campus when it reopens!
The word ‘tehzeeb’ is quite popular in the campus, especially in the conservative circles of the university. When I came out publicly, a fellow student very insensitively told me how I should control my ‘gay urges’ and not practice the ‘sin’ of homosexuality. The usual ‘gay slurs’ are thrown openly amongst friends in normal conversations especially in cis-hetero boy clubs and if you ever try to give them a scientific explanation on homosexuality, they counter you with their interpretations of religious verses.
Not only the student outfits, but even some faculty members exhibit deep homophobia, though in subtle ways. There have been instances when students were not given permission to organise workshops or events on sexuality or gender. However, this does not take away the massive support of teachers as well as a good number of progressive students on campus. But the problem lies in the casual homophobia faced by queer students and with the perpetrators getting away without facing any consequence. The lack of any kind of effective mechanism in the university to report homophobia has encouraged such students to continue with their bigotry.
The dynamic politics of the country in which JMI students have been actively involved often overshadows the issues of minority students at the university. Many students who experience homophobia do not want to be radical about it as they are aware it can be used against the Muslim community by the hate-spewing machinery of Hindutva fundamentalists. This is the reason why many progressive organisations on the campus only secretly extend their support to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Interestingly, on one hand, JMI’ student community is questioning the imposition of a monolithic belief of our country’s ruling party. On the other, some students from the same community are engaged in moral policing the gender and sexual minority of the university.
This university was founded on the principles of resistance, social activism and common solidarity. And if this solidarity does not have space for queer rights, then it is nothing but a reflection of whom these so-called activists are fighting against. Let there be no doubt that these homophobic social media trends are not having an impact on the university’s reputation. With this fundamentalism, a student from the LGBTQIA+ community will have to think twice before taking admission and this would negatively impact the century-long legacy of the university.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty