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Why Jamia has let down India

Why Jamia has let down India

Author: Ashok Malik
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 4, 2008

Running an energetic and high-visibility media campaign, the faculty and administration of Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia are striving to present terror suspects as victims. There is every possibility, it is being asserted, that the two Jamia students arrested for probable links with Indian Mujahideen -- and being investigated for their role, if any, in the September 13 terrorist bombings in Delhi -- are actually innocent.

Such logic, devoid of any supportive evidence, mixes well with street emotionalism. It panders and offers legitimacy to a cult of denial -- whether in the bylanes of a Muslim quarter in Delhi or in a village in Azamgarh. It rejects any notion of local support for acts of terror and prefers to see both the original crime and the police measures following it as some sort of a conspiracy.

In the long run, this New Left-Islamic alliance is not serving ordinary Muslims. It is pushing them, as it did in Gujarat in the years following 2002, into a trap. An entire community, with its good and its bad, its attributes and its angularities, is being boxed in to suit the smug postulates of 'Left-secular' academics and drawing-room activists.

There is, of course, a difference between Jamia Millia, the university and Jamia Nagar, the residential area that neighbours it. However, by their actions and arguments, the faculty and Academic Council of the educational institution are doing their utmost to efface that divide. In the popular perception, there is no substantial difference between the sloganeering of Jamia Nagar and the rhetoric and op-ed articles from Jamia Millia. They are both feeding off each other.

It is nobody's argument that every Muslim in Jamia Nagar or every student in Jamia Millia is a terrorist or even a potential sympathiser of Indian Mujahideen. They may have their prejudices -- and, indeed, which human being, irrespective of religion or nationality, doesn't? -- but that is very different from seeing them as terrorists or facilitators of bombings or anything but horrified by the murder of ordinary people.

Yet, it is equally true that somewhere in the confines of Jamia Nagar and Jamia Millia some people who are affiliated to the terror cause have found sanctuary. The community in the neighbourhood refuses to believe this. The university, rather than nuance and modulate that mood, is reinforcing it.

Consider an analogy. The historian David Irving and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad both deny the Holocaust and insist Jews fabricated stories and so-called evidence to unfairly discredit the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. Both are, of course, talking rubbish. Yet, should we discriminate between their essential theses only because one is an otherwise well-known writer and the other a back-alley polemicist? Is the David Irving Centre for Negationism the new academic school at Jamia?

In its open letter -- published in this newspaper on October 3 -- the Academic Council of Jamia Millia Islamia proudly and somewhat hyperbolically states: "We embody the idea of India." Fair enough, but do all those who disagree with Jamia's Millia's recent conduct, who are disappointed by the manner in which it has made provocative gestures, represent an idea hostile to India?

Any defence of Jamia makes three essential points. First, its past history is that of a nationalist institution, founded by enlightened Muslims who followed Gandhi and rejected Pakistan. This is an unimpeachable legacy but it is, broadly speaking, irrelevant to the current debate.

Second, if a student gets into trouble with the law, the university authorities cannot abandon him. He probably lives far away from his family, it is important for the university, its Vice-Chancellor and the student's professor or hostel warden to look after him, to function, in the words of Mukul Kesavan -- the Jamia faculty member who wrote in the Telegraph on October 2 -- "in loco parentis".

The Academic Council's open letter complemented this belief when it said, "A student of London School of Economics was found guilty of being a terrorist. Does that turn such a prestigious institution into a terrorist camp? Then why Jamia?"

These questions are persuasive. However, there is one crucial inconsistency: Jamia is refusing to look inward. If a college student gets into a brawl or runs over a pedestrian thanks to drunken driving, he is guilty of a crime. Both examples would suggest a wayward individual who needs counselling along with legal action. There is no widespread sentiment anywhere -- at no university certainly -- that actively promotes brawling or drunken driving as an ideology and a way of life.

However, terrorism or sympathy for terrorism flowing from a certain perverted interpretation of faith and a jihad-fixated mind implies not one person's recklessness but a larger social problem of indoctrination. It is now clear that there are individuals in Jamia -- and without doubt they make up only a small number -- who are misusing it to spread their negative gospel and win adherents.

Is it not incumbent upon the university authorities to take action to stop this, or to at least investigate this phenomenon? Don't they owe an explanation of why they are not even addressing the issue to the rest of the city of Delhi, to the other stakeholders of the "idea of India"?

Third, Jamia justified its initial decision to pay for the legal defence of the student-terror suspects on grounds of principle. It said every accused person was entitled to a fair trial and a legal counsel. If no lawyer represented an accused, it was obligatory for the state to hire one.

In the case of the September 13 suspects, the Jamia Vice-Chancellor made several leaps of judgement. He presumed no lawyer would defend 'the boys' because of a prejudiced atmosphere. He presumed the Government would then have to appoint lawyers and pay them. He decided that he would take a short cut, appoint the lawyers himself and that, since Jamia was a public-funded institution, he could act in lieu of the Government.

Today that plan has been aborted. A semi-official committee of Jamia staff and students will pay for the defence. Contributions are being solicited, and fairly openly, by Jamia students at mosques and namaaz congregations for the 'Students' Legal Aid Fund'.

Is this not a denominational, religion-specific appeal? How do the Jamia authorities explain it? Perhaps, like in the case of the consortium of newspapers and civil society groups that collected a purse for Brig-Gen RE Dyer after Jallianwalla Bagh, they have simply lost all sense of proportion.

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