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Guest Column: TOI vs AMU: Is it about Media Ban or Women's Empowerment?

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Guest Column: TOI vs AMU: Is it about Media Ban or Women's Empowerment?

RECAP. The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Vice Chancellor Rtd Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah (earlier Deputy Chief of Army (personal and system)) is branded sexist and finds himself at the center of a debate for banning TOI from AMU campus. The issue and buildup to it are result of simple administrative steps from a straight talking VC. And I am not taking sides, not as yet.

Access to the 1200- seat Air conditioned Maulana Azad Library is a long standing demand of Under Graduate students of Abdulla Girls College. Once again denying their demand, the VC pointed out that the Library is already crowded with male students, with opening it to girls, four times more males may come. This would lead to space constraints and cause disciplinary issues. TOI like a responsible media promptly reported it.

For the record, the Women's College Students' Union (AMUWCSU) and AMU Students' Union (AMUSU) protested the alleged "biased media reports” and  demanded a ban on  TOI  for having wrongly represented women and university in the media. On 13th November, in the Kennedy Auditorium, the VC agreeing to demand of slogan-shouting students demanding TOI ban, said: "Times of India Aligarh Muslim University mein nahi ayega." However no written orders were issued.

TOI ban is a new issue. Access to Library is not. On May 7, 2014 in the interview with the same TOI reporter, Lt Gen said ‘I am accused of being conservative but girls of Abdullah College cannot access the library because the route is unsafe. Till further expansion, access will be restricted. (if there were cases- who would you find responsible) But they can access material online, everything is available there.. And women don't move out late here because parents don't approve of it. I wrote letters to parents about allowing girls out after 5 but they showed displeasure — we've stuck to parents' sentiments (Is this VC’s fault?) .We are being overprotective but conditions in Aligarh are different from Delhi. The crime rate is higher here and social norms are different (and we must abide by them)…. It is conservative’.

The issue of women’s empowerment is raised six months later, only when TOI is banned. Its media mere dost, selective listening is par for the course. Reports from far-flung places like AMU die natural death. The new blip would have subsided if only VC would have stopped reacting with a ban.

Ours is a country that has always discriminated among people primarily on the grounds of gender, cast and religion. We accept and adapt. Many temples bar women from entering. Khap disallow marriages. Sikh women are exempted from wearing helmets. Reservation happens by geographies. Differentiated rules govern minorities. Media chooses to selectively ignore them. So there was no issue in women not accessing a library - until TOI was banned.

Now women inequality and empowerment becomes the focus. Suddenly everyone wakes up. Words like abuse of power, democratic rights being denied, shocking instance of intolerance and women inequality etc. make front page.

On the other hand, we remain silent when books are banned for possibility that they may incite some selective section of population. By the same logic, VC should be within his rights while trying to keep peace in his area of control. Maybe agreeing to students’ demand was a tactical move to retain the recent history of no student violence at AMU since 2012 when Lt Gen took over. And if it flares, will media take responsibility?

The VC knows that TOI ban amounts to nothing in this era of smart phones and apps. The students seem to be siding with the VC and asking the media to say sorry. Therefore, in the face of it, the so-called readers are ok with the ban.

Anyway, a division bench taking note of the PIL have rightly said that any effort to regulate a problem of 'over crowding' in a campus library must be on a gender-neutral basis. And that is the crux. The adminstrative issue could be resolved by regulated timing, expansion (funds needed), reseraved seats, online liberary- and all that can not happen with a flick of a switch.

Meanwhile VC claims that most of the books in Maulana Azad Library have been catalogued online. They are available on request to the girl students of Abdulla College. Additional funds been granted for expansion of Girls Library. Books requested by girls are delivered next day. PG girl students are allowed in the Library. Women students are currently ok with getting books delivered to them instead of walking the unsafe 3-Km stretch. The students understand space, distance constraints and the safety issues associated with it. Does TOI understand how is it to be the VC of AMU?

Many more chapters on this episode will be written before it subsides.

In any organisation, access to media and information is selective. There are norms. Many things are not acceptable (banned without written policies) and the members gladly accept that. It is done basis what is acceptable and expected behaviour within that ecosystem. AMU is a different ecosystem and the VC runs it as per expectation of the community and students within.

I personally do not endorse ban on media in any format. However, would appreciate if media remains true to its role and is not selective in what it raises and presents. If it is for the women’s empowerment, I am all game.

Sanjeev Kotnala is Head Catalyst at INTRADIA and believes that the best way forward for an Organization is to enhance the potential of  internal teams instead of depending on external resources. He is a management consultant and  conducts specialised workshops in the area of  Liberating Ideas and Innovation.


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