By Abhay Kumar
What could be more brutal than Saturday’s police-crackdown on the protesting students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)? Hundreds of security personnel rained lathis on the protesters for just demanding a CBI inquiry into Najeeb’s disappearance! Doesn’t it reveal the deep-seated anti-Muslim prejudice of our police? One may contest my view and say that police crackdown has less to do with the “Muslim” character of AMU and more to do with the nature of the State that acts mercilessly in crushing acts of protests and dissents and other educational institutes such as. HCU and JNU have already been targeted.
Undeniably, the government is increasingly scuttling the democratic spaces within the universities and imposing its agendas of saffronisation and privatisation of education. Yet, I am inclined to argue that when it comes to an educational institute with a large population of Muslims, the approach of the State often becomes more prejudiced.
How and when did anti-Muslim prejudice come into being? Eminent scholar Edward Said traced the construction of Muslims’ negative images in the works of orientalists. As the colonial scholarship drew on orientalists’ writings, anti-Muslim bias entered our system. The image of “unruly”, “violent”, and “disloyal” Muslims was gradually constructed and Muslims began to be considered as the “other” and “suspect”. Their educational institutions and localities were perceived as a “threat” and they are brought under high surveillance. The Sachar Committee, too, noted this grim reality: the presence of police personnel is more common in Muslims areas than that of schools, hospitals, banks, and industry.
Working with the similar communal mindset, the local administration elevated the security around AMU, turning surrounding areas into a virtual cantonment ahead of the march. Barricades were erected and water cannons were kept ready. The heavy security deployment, comprising Rapid Action Force (RAF) and Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and the police, created an atmosphere of fear.
The presence of the RAF and the PAC was more frightening. Established in 1991, the RAF is envisioned to combat communal riots but it is widely used by the State to carry out brutal assaults on minorities, students, and workers. The PAC, on the other hand, was floated by the enactment of the UP Pradesh Armed Constabulary Act, 1948 but it carries an “image of being an anti-Muslim force”, particularly after it was blamed for executing extra-judicial killings of 117 Muslim men in and around Meerut.
As soon as the protestors marched ahead, a flood of security forces began raining lathis on them. Several videos viral on social media were able to capture their acts of brutality: the peaceful protesters ran here and there in a virtual stampede and many of them got injured and some sustained head injuries. Worse still, the women students were dragged on the road and those who were running for life were chased and badly beaten up.
Note the stark contrast between the approaches of the police towards AMU and the JNU. Ever since the disappearance of Najeeb on October 15, the JNU students have been protesting against the administration and the police right at the VC’s office. With the demand for bringing him back and punishing the culprits, they held several demonstrations and even carried out a mass blockage of the Vice-Chancellor’s office for 22-hours. Even then, AMU-type of police crackdown did not happen.
But this is not to imply that the JNU administration is soft on its students. In fact, it is conducting a proctorial inquiry against twenty protesters and slapped suspension orders on a dozen for raising the issue of social justice. Noted scholar Nivedita Menon, who teaches political thought at JNU, was also given notice by the JNU administration for addressing her own students near VC’s office. The surveillance within the campus has been increased and all the democratic space left is being snatched. The police, too, recently raided hostels in the name of “searching” Najeeb. In one such incident, some police personnel entered my friend’s room in Brahmputra Hostel and asked him to open his cupboard and bag as if Najeeb was sitting right there.
Moreover, the role of media and the civil society was is also disappointing. While they were vocal in the February 9 incident and criticised the government for attacking JNU, they are not so vocal in the matter of AMU. Media and civil society’s apathy was also noticed in September last year when a Kashmiri student of AMU was expelled for writing just a Facebook post about the Uri terror attack. Soon after his expulsion, I went to AMU and asked some Kashmiri students if they would wage a fight against the administration as JNU students did earlier, they were not excited about such comparison. ‘We are unlikely to get the public support as the students of JNU got.’
Contrast the police crackdown on the AMU protestors with the impunity given to those who attacked Najeeb. The trio of the police, JNU administration, and the Hindutva government remain in a state of callousness and inaction. In the name of carrying out search operation for Najeeb, the protesters and secular forces are being harassed by the police and the ruling Hindutva forces are trying to take political mileage out of it. While the Hindutva forces are criticizing the Akhilesh Government for the crackdown to spread its reach among minority sections or at least antagonise them against the incumbent SP government, the same protests are criticized as an act of “lawlessness” by “unruly Muslim” students so as to please their saffron cadres.
The demonization of the AMU is an old agenda of the Hindutva forces. Unlike the reality that AMU is an “institution of national importance” and one of the “most prestigious intellectual and cultural centres” of Indian Muslims, nefarious attempts are often made to negatively portray it image. Not long ago in 2015 a communal organization – Hindu Yuva Vahini which is backed up by BJP MP Aditayanath – went to an extent of calling AMU a “nursery of terrorism”.
Far from these charges, the fact is that Muslims are victims of state discrimination and have become backward, socially, educationally, and economically. For example, Muslims undertials (55 per cent) and convicts (20.9 per cent) are much higher than their population (14.2 per cent), while their share is abysmally low when it comes to employment. They constitute 3.32 per cent share of IAS officers, while 3.19 per cent of IPS. One could imagine what would have been the conditions of Muslims had AMU not produced thousands of graduates, doctors, engineers, professionals, and scholars each year. This is why AMU remains an eyesore for the Hindutva forces. If these are not reflections of prejudice, then what else?
Abhay Kumar is pursuing PhD at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
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