Why are Aligarh Muslim University’s Students Protesting?

Earlier last week, approximately 30 members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini chanted “Bharat me rehna hoga toh Ram Ram kehna hoga” (If you want to stay in India, you’ll have to chant Ram Ram) outside the gates of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Their chanting and disruption has sparked off protests on campus, altercations with the police and a flurry of questions about a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Students from AMU are now on an ‘indefinite’ strike at the university’s main gate. Here are answers for some of the questions everyone around the country is asking about what’s going on.

1. Why is the protest going on in the Aligarh Muslim University?
The protest started after police lathi charged AMU students on May 2. The students were on their way to the police station to file an FIR against members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), who they alleged had waved pistols at the university’s main gate, abused students and security guards, and raised objectionable slogans. Notably, former vice president, Hamid Ansari was approximately 100m away from the gate where these events took place.

Consequently, students are protesting against being lathi charged, saying that they simply meant to file an FIR, and instead were brutally beaten by the police.

The AMU Student’s Union (AMUSU) and AMU Teacher’s Association have joined hands in this protest.

2. Is there any link between this protest and the portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the student’s union hall?

No, the AMU students protest is not related to Jinnah’s portrait. AMU’s public relations department has also clarified this is in its press releases. The protest is against the lathi charge on unarmed students heading towards the police station to file an FIR against HYV members.

3. Why is Jinnah’s portrait in the the student’s union hall?

Jinnah was conferred lifetime membership in the AMUSU in1938. The student union’s hall is the place where the organisation puts portraits of its members. “The portrait is the part of AMU’s history and the University doesn’t subscribe to the ideology of Mr. Jinnah. In fact, we are against Jinnah,” said Professor Asim Siddiqui in an interview given to a news channel.

4. Why can’t the AMUSU take down the portrait?

Jinnah’s portrait only represents the fact that he was awarded lifetime membership in the union. This is merely a fact and cannot be deleted from the history. There is a list of people who were conferred the prestigious AMUSU lifetime membership, Jinnah is simply a part of that list. Keeping the portrait up or taking it down won’t change this fact. However, taking it down now would support those who think keeping the portrait means subscribing to or respecting Jinnah’s ideology.

AMU is also not the only institution in the country that acknowledges Jinnah’s existence. Jinnah’s house in Mumbai is another place where you can find his portrait, and the Indian Institute of Advance Studies mentions him in relation to the 1945 Shimla conference on its website.

5. What is the lifetime membership of AMUSU?

The AMUSU confers lifetime membership in its union to eminent personalities and holds a traditional ceremony to welcome members. Mahatma Gandhi was the first lifetime member of the AMUSU. Dr Karan Singh, one of the founders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, was also conferred the same honour. Mother Teresa, B R Ambedkar, E M Foster, C V Raman, J L Nehru, and J P Narayan are the few names who have this membership.

6. How long will this strike continue?
The AMUSU has put forth some demand before the district administration. They are :
a. Sitting Judge judicial enquiry.
b. Revocation of FIR against AMU students.
c. Lodging of an FIR against the original disrupters
d. Arresting identified culprits
e. Action against police officials who supported the goons and ordered a lathi charge without warning.
f.  Stop the silencing of student politics.

Student’s Union said that they will continue the strike till these demands are fulfilled.

Mohd Umair Khan is with Aligarh Muslim University.