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Aligarh Muslim University [AMU], every now and then, hits the headlines in the mainstream media. Not much opposed to its tradition, it is now also in the news-debate regarding a strong allegation put by a section of people that, “non-Muslims are not being provided food in the hostels of AMU during the month of Ramzan.” Before going to any kind of explanations and clarifications regarding this nuanced issue, I would like to draw your attention to see what kind of messages being circulated in the internet/media.
AMU should not adopt the policy of disengagement with criticism rather the non-disengagement policy will bring spring blossoms to it.
First of all, an online media platform has reported, “Nadeem Ansari, vice-president of the AMU students’ union, confirmed to Scoop Whoop News that this indeed is the tradition for “more than 50 years”. Asked how do non-fasting students manage during this time, Ansari said that they “arrange for their food” and it has never been an issue.” Moreover, AMU’s Dean Students’ Welfare member Prof Jamshed Siddiqui said “the tradition of not serving breakfast and lunch in hostel mess has been in place for years and that there are “standing orders” that no food will be served in any function in the campus.” However, the enthusiastic DNA reported that “Jyoti Bhaskar, a student of Mass Communication and a prominent youth activist at the AMU said, “It is sad that religious angle is being given to this entire issue.” “There is a provision in our hostel to provide us lunch (during Ramzan) if we give it in writing.”
Then you come to this post where different viewpoints have been put forward by the resident students of AMU. One female student from Begum Sultan Jahan Hall is claiming that there is no problem of getting food during Ramzan. Coherently enough, another male student from AMU provided a counter-argument of non-availability of meals during Ramzan in most of the Halls. Please mind the phrase- “in most of the Halls”. I will come back to it later. Yet another website called The Lallantop declared that the “Hindu students are starving there at AMU campus as no breakfast or lunch is being served”. However, the authorities have claimed that those [Muslims and non-Muslims both] want to have lunch during the month of Ramzan can approach the authorities in writing.
In this entire episode, one thing is clear that both the parties are losing a beating fight. One section is portraying the half-chewed fact and the other one is trying to save the image of AMU from being fallen prey to communalised discourses. Even the try is to show that AMU’s policy is largely inclusive and not exclusive in nature whereas the actual controversy is largely meted out on the ground that whether food is being served to Gair-Rozadars [those who do not fast] or not during Ramzan. Now, let’s move towards my points and arguments.
But before making any expert comment at this political outset, let me introduce myself first. I have been a student of AMU from 2008 till 2014. In the six-years of my AMU life, I stayed five years at Mohammad Habib Hall and the remaining one-year of my stay I dwelled at Sherwani Hall. I witnessed the six occasions of Ramzan. Frankly speaking, whatever the issue is, giving it a communal colour will lead you to a fool’s paradise. One more thing I should clarify here is that if someone is looking for an objective truth in this issue, will be a futile exercise. All are subjective interpretations. Even, I can only share some valid arguments regarding the scenario in Habib Hall during my stay. Let me come to all the arguments one by one.
First, whether food is being served to non-Muslims during Ramzan or not. This statement is equally valid and invalid too. Indeed food is being served but the point is when. The usual timing of serving food to all the resident students was sehri, iftar and dinner and Habib Hall was of no exception. Breakfast and lunch are missing from most of the boys Halls, which is synching with Dean Students’ Welfare member’s statement, whereas the same is being served to the girls’ hostels [Abdullah Hall, Indira Gandhi Hall and Begum Sultan Jahan Hall], if I am not wrong. During my stay at AMU, when I shared the story of non-availability of lunch during Ramzan, my female friends would reply me with opposite facts. When I asked them the reason, they told me that the mess in the girls’ hostels are run by private bodies whereas it is not the case with Habib Hall, at least. One probable explanation of not-providing food during Ramzan might be like this; as most of the staffs [even in some cases all] working in the dining halls are Muslims; working in the dining may break their fast [loosely speaking]. But one could still be in apprehension about the validity of this claim.
Secondly, as opposed to my experience I shared in the earlier paragraph, an article reported, “Another hostel, Habib Hall, on the other hand, prepares food at regular hours for non-fasting students, but only on demand. Dr Suhail Sabir, provost, Habib Hall explains, “Since the number of students eating lunch in mess is very low, we don’t make it as usual but on demand. If any student wants lunch, he can inform the mess incharge and food will be prepared for him. There are several non-Muslims who’ve demanded food while several others have not. We make food accordingly.” Although the Provost of Habib Hall is claiming of serving food on regular basis now, it was not the case during my tenure. I do not know the actual scene of Habib Hall now but still I have apprehension about this claim. However, as Dr. Suhail Sabir has been a good, hard-working and dedicated Provost as he has proved his credentials by bringing revolutionary changes in the picturesque of Moshinul Mulk Hall during his tenure, he deserves little criticism. Taking the cue of his honesty forward, I hope that his words about Habib Hall were implemented well before AMU hits the headlines.
But, one thing is very much appreciable of my Rozadar friends that they will not leave you alone while they are having their iftar. They used to invite people around to attend them in iftar as they regularly did this to me. I cannot remember a day, during my AMU life, when I was not invited for iftar by any of my Rozadar friends. This issue of food is about the policy of AMU administration and not about Muslims and non-Muslims. Giving this issue a communal direction is absolutely unwarranted. Dining issue has always been a problem in AMU, be it quality, quantity or both. Every now and then the rhetoric of solving the dining issue comes, but eventually it is being tactfully dealt to rest it in peace. The dining issue needs immediate consideration from the administration.
If I conclude my arguments, I could only say one thing that the issue is not about Muslims versus non-Muslims rather the issue is dining versus the AMU administration. Closing the dining during Ramzan will bring [and has already brought] negative images to AMU. Even the surrounding dhabas are closed in this month and the only way out is to cook. When a student is regular member of a dining hall, why should s/he be subject to cooking during this month? Why this double-standard? Despite of some communally directed and misleading headlines in the news, AMU still did not prove itself to claim its position beyond criticism. When AMU faces criticism, a sub-intellect kind of argument-“as BJP is in power, it is trying to communalise the environment”- is ready to come out from some sections of AMU. This pre-conceived notion needs to be deconstructed. It is always not profitable to perceive every action of any particular political organisation with suspicion although RSS-backed-BJP has its politics thieved on hatred. The issue of dining in AMU should have been given serious attention and it is good that a political organisation has taken up the issue. AMU should not adopt the policy of disengagement with criticism rather the non-disengagement policy will bring spring blossoms to it.
The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at Institute of Development Studies Kolkata and has been a student of AMU from 2008 to 2014. He can be reached at @modontanti
 Please bear with me if I write the Urdu/Arabic words improperly.