'To preserve our secular inheritance'

Published : Oct 24, 2008 00:00 IST

MUSHIRUL HASAN. HE says he will be the first to quit if any student is proven guilty.-RAJEEV BHATT

MUSHIRUL HASAN. HE says he will be the first to quit if any student is proven guilty.-RAJEEV BHATT

Interview with Mushirul Hasan, Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

JAMIA MILLIA ISLAMIA in New Delhi, a Central university, has been in the news because of the recent arrest of two of its students for their alleged involvement in the bomb blasts in New Delhi and elsewhere. One of the alleged terrorists killed in the Jamia Nagar encounter in Delhi, Atif Ameen, had enrolled at the university only in August this year.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Mushirul Hasan announced that the university would provide legal aid to its students who were arrested, a stand which was subsequently endorsed by Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Arjun Singh. Hasan told Frontline that it was his personal decision because he felt as a teacher and as the head of an institution that it was his moral responsibility to stand by his students until the legal process reached its logical conclusion.

A Padma Shri awardee who has written 11 books on Indian history, Hasan has presented many papers at world fora and is an authority on Islam, Partition and communalism. I will be the first person to quit if even a single student of my university is ever found expressing solidarity with terrorist activities anywhere, said Hasan. Excerpts from the interview:

Everyone was surprised by your announcement that the university would provide legal aid to students arrested for their alleged involvement in the bomb blasts. What made you take this stand?

These are only charges at the moment. Our jurisprudence dictates that one is innocent until proven guilty. This was my personal decision because I felt as a teacher and as the head of an institution, it was my moral responsibility. After all, is the teacher not considered the mai-baap [mother-father] by the students? I was only trying to calm nerves on the campus and assure my students and the faculty that nobody is denied his or her fundamental rights in this country.

I have nothing to say on the encounter; it is outside my brief. But I had to come into the picture because three of our students were involved. I was concerned about its impact on the campus.

How would you justify your stand, all the more because Jamia is a Central university and the BJP says you are spending taxpayers money to help terrorists?

I owe no explanation or justification to anybody. Those who know me or are aware of my credentials will understand my decision. As for the criticism from the BJP, I take it as a certificate of my good conduct. Any words of appreciation from the BJP, in fact, would embarrass me. Their criticism is proof that I am on the right track.

As for spending taxpayers money, this is not true. The funds are being contributed by the teachers voluntarily. There is a committee for this purpose. Besides, we have a students aid fund from which we regularly help students in situations like medical emergencies. We have spent from this fund for arranging bails in the case of an incident of violence in which 40 students were arrested. So this is not something we have done for the first time.

But here the charges are of being involved in terrorist activities.

That is still to be proved. I took the decision to foil the attempt by a section of the political parties and the media to damage the universitys image. Just because a couple of students have been implicated in cases, it does not make the entire university a nerve centre of terrorist activity. This vicarious attempt by a section to discredit the independent, pluralist and secular credentials of the university is unfortunate and it was to defeat this campaign that I took this stand. I owe no explanation for my conduct to anybody.

After I decided, I merely informed the HRD Minister, UGC [University Grants Commission] Chairman, the Secretary and the Joint Secretary concerned. They are not obliged either to agree or disagree with me. My only intention is to defend and preserve the secular inheritance of our university and calm nerves.

As for the students being accused of involvement in terrorist activities, let them be proven guilty first. The law of the land says that you are innocent until proven guilty. If they are proven guilty and convicted, good, bad and sad. They would deserve their punishment. But if they are exonerated, then also it is fine, no big cause for jubilation. I can assure you that if ever any of my students were found expressing solidarity with terrorism anywhere, I would be the first person to quit. The spirit of the university must not be compromised or tarnished by anyone whatsoever.

What is the impact of the incident on the campus?

Except for the first few days of nervous tension, the campus has been a model of exemplary behaviour. We had a massive peace march in which 9,000-10,000 students participated. But yes, there is a sense of insecurity among students, which is true for both Hindu and Muslim students. Landlords in the neighbouring areas are asking our students to vacate their houses; the very sight of the police makes the students nervous.

The university administration, however, is trying to instil a sense of security among the students. We asked the government to remove the police from the campus immediately afterwards. We are also trying to solve the hostel problem; we are building a new hostel for about 1,500 students, which should be ready in six to eight months.

The biggest assurance, however, has been the fact that the faculty is solidly behind the administration and has been instrumental in restoring the faith and confidence of the locality in the honour and secular image of the university. They also feel that the impeccable reputation of the university cannot be damaged by isolated non-events like this.

Has the incident affected the placement process?

Unfortunately yes, some of our students have been asked embarrassing questions. Though this cannot be helped at the moment, I hope, with the passage of time, this will stop.

Does it hurt you that despite having such an impeccable reputation you have to stand up and declare your secular credentials?

Well, this cannot be helped, I guess. But I do hope that this phase is short-lived, as the problems in Punjab were. I do hope that this is a passing phase and will pass by without much damage to our great institution.

The BJP has criticised you. Has any political party expressed solidarity with you?

I dont want to be involved in political battles. I am keen that political parties should not jump into the fray on this issue. We have not had any public meeting addressed by any political leader on the campus; we have not had any politicians visiting us.

I wanted no political tamaasha [show], no rhetoric, no speeches, nothing. The ABVP [Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP] tried to enter the campus shouting slogans, but they were stopped outside.

Are you convinced that your students are not guilty? Do you check their antecedents at the time of admission?

What sort of an antecedent can a 19- or 20-year-old have? They mostly come from poor families, from far-off areas. As for these two [students], I cant say until the investigations are complete. It may or may not be true, they might have been misled, brainwashed by vested interests. I cannot vouch for that. But it is not possible for us to check the antecedents of all students. We have no such agency at our disposal. In fact, we have no column in our admission forms even to identify students as Hindus or Muslims.

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