On March 25, my professor Dr Abrar Ahmad at Jamia Millia Islamia posted a tweet which led to his suspension after his message went viral, with many calling him out for “bigotry”. He is an assistant professor at the department of electrical engineering at Jamia and I am his student.
Here’s what he tweeted: “All my students r passed except 15 non muslims, who ve to re-appear#CAA. If you protest #CAAProtests, I have 55 students in my favour#caasupport. Majority will teach U lesson if protest not ends#riot.Due to #corona your symbols of protest be erased. I wonder why they hate me?”
The people who went after him missed the satire.
Jamia has been at the forefront of anti- Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests and he used an analogy in the tweet. He intended to suggest: how would he fare as a teacher if he failed some of his students only because they belonged to a particular religion? How would it turn out if the failed students were not given the opportunity to protest?
However, in the heat of the moment, the university administration suspended Dr Abrar pending an inquiry. At this point, you can’t blame the administration, given how things unfolded after the police crackdown on the campus in December last year.
As his tweet went viral, Dr Abrar posted another tweet clarifying what he actually meant. He asked OpIndia, the news portal that first reported it, to verify if any such examination (which he mentioned in the tweet) had actually taken place and if there had ever been any such discrimination from his end. He also suggested that reporters verify this with his students.
In the meantime, many other news portals started running misleading headlines without any verification, leaving no stone unturned in tarnishing the image of a dedicated and an honest teacher and, of course, Jamia. The university – which at this point is only focused on being perceived as a secular institution – didn’t allow Dr Abrar a chance to defend himself and immediately ordered his suspension.
Dr. Abrar Ahmad, Asstt Professor of @jmiu_official tweeted in public domain as to failing 15 non-muslim students in an exam. This is a serious misconduct inciting communal disharmony under CCS CONDUCT RULES.The university suspends him pending inquiry.@DrRPNishank @HRDMinistry
— Jamia Millia Islamia (Central University) (@jmiu_official) March 25, 2020
What his students have to say
As his students, most of us were shocked but not surprised when the news of his suspension reached us. One of my classmates, Meghana Shrivastava, said, “Everyone knows about Abrar sir, how good a teacher he is, he can never do this”.
To be more precise, I specifically asked Meghana if she ever felt any discrimination at Jamia for being a Hindu, to which she promptly replied, “Na kabhi bhi nahien (no, never)”.
It’s unfortunate that a university which is one of India’s best mass communication schools falls prey to propaganda journalism every now and then. In a bizarre report filed by OpIndia – claiming to have come from a source in Jamia – stated that professors identify the non-Muslim students by their roll numbers to discriminate against them.
With what appears to be an imaginary source, had they exercised the journalistic ethos and actually got in touch with the students Dr Abrar teaches and has taught, they would have known the truth.
“He is a very good teacher. I never feel any discrimination,” said Priti Mishra, another student.
Despite Dr Abrar’s elaborate clarifications, no one paid heed and continued running stories with misleading headlines. Suhail Ahmed, another classmate, said, “Abrar sir is one of [the] most polite and humble personalities you will ever come across and he has never discriminated among his students on any basis.”
He further expressed his disappointment and said,“suspending him without inquiry is unjustified and gives weight to only one side of the story”.
Stigmatising a community
The misplaced priorities at the time of a pandemic can be seen across the spectrum, from a government focused on erasing the anti-CAA graffiti drawn on Jamia’s walls to the media irresponsibly reporting satire as communal expression.
Now, when things have taken an unfortunate turn, I felt compelled to write this report. But I have had to address my classmates as Muslims and non-Muslims, and that troubles me.
Interestingly, I didn’t even know the surname of one of my classmates who we all call Brij, and I had to ask him his full name. He told me that a while ago, he had asked Dr Abrar about his apprehensions of failing M.Tech students, to which Dr Abrar replied on a lighter note saying that no one fails in M.Tech.
“According to me he [Dr Abrar] is [the] best teacher who teaches us,” he said.
The very foundations of Jamia were a result of a strong political movement and asking its students and teachers to remain apolitical is not only self-contradictory but, in a larger aspect, an attack upon the ethos of its founders. Just a few months ago, Jamia celebrated its centenary with much fervour and zeal.
And just a few days after that, the riots in Northeast Delhi rendered many Muslim families homeless. Dr Abrar was referring to these very riots in his tweet. For me, he was just following the ethos of the university’s founding fathers by highlighting the plight of the Muslims.
In comparison to an orally communicated message, written texts, like tweets, often fail to convey the person’s actual intention. Twitter’s word restriction makes its even more tricky. Dr Abrar admits that he found himself a victim to these constraints. “Earlier I wrote a full text, but due to the word constraint, I started deleting some words,” he said.
He told me that he wanted to start the tweet with something like, “If I fail 15 non-Muslim students….” but later deleted it and said that he never thought it would be taken the way it has been.
Discrimination on any basis should be called out; exclusive and selective condemnation is deplorable on anyone’s part – and this is what Dr Abrar precisely wanted to convey.
It is important to convey the right message, as my classmate Surya Pratap made me realise when he said, “Bhai thoda English me hath tang hai (brother, I am not that good with English)“ but went on to say “I’ve never felt any discrimination by any faculty or students in class or in campus” in perfectly correct English.
Vineet Kumar, another student, also rubbished claims of any discrimination. When I further asked – I had to – if he said that out of pressure, he replied saying, “No, this is my word, [this is] what I feel”.
There shouldn’t have been the need to collect these testimonies, not if there was no vitriolic reportage of the incident. But finding scapegoats and twisting the narrative whenever there is a Muslim involved has become commonplace these days.
As I write this, some in the Indian media have already found the new term for the present pandemic. One organisation has been made responsible for the coronavirus crisis in India and don’t get surprised if someone actually tells you that the virus actually originated from Tabligi Jamat Markaz Nizamuddin, Delhi.
The witch hunting of Muslims must stop.
Marifat Majid is first year M.Tech student in electrical power system management at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi