17 years ago, no one had heard of Islamophobia. While some scholars claim that Islamophobia existed in premise before the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001, others counter that argument by saying that it increased in frequency and notoriety during the past decade. But the focus of this article is whether Islamophobia exists within the student community of the University of Delhi (DU).
“Why do you wear this?”, “Can you take it off?”, and “I want to see your hair!” In the last two years as a student in DU, my friend Wasila had been at the receiving end of many such remarks. In conversation with DU Beat, Wasila Nizami, a student pursuing Political Science Honours in Miranda House, questioned, “If the student community in the country’s most liberal environment holds this kind of mindset, what will the rest of India think about those who wear headscarves over long, black dresses?” When asked whether she has tried to bring this to the notice of the authorities, she answered, “Forget the authorities. Even those who claim to represent us-members of the Students’ Union-would not respond appropriately to allegations of Islamophobia.”
Cases of failed justice for harassment committed against the Muslim students in DU has driven home a feeling amongst the affected that they are not respected by those who follow other faiths within the varsity. Shabnam Sultana, a student pursuing History Honours from Ramjas College, told DU Beat, “Most college departments refuse to accept that religious bullying takes place in their campuses.” Speaking on her own troubled experience as a student following the tenets of Islam, she remarked, “From the time I take the e-rickshaw to college to the time I take the e-rickshaw to my PG, I feel concerned about my own safety because my hijab gives out my identity.”
Even to outside observers, it is becoming evident that this premier institution has a tendency to ostracise and single out students belonging to the Muslim community. Jahnavi Sharma, a PhD scholar in JNU and a DU graduate, told DU Beat, “In canteens, classrooms, and common rooms, a Muslim student might be singled out and called a Pakistani or the ISIS. It might be said to evoke laughter or might be meant as a joke, but it’s not. It actually amounts to bullying and tormenting.”
Should we treat every attack on a Muslim student as Islamophobic? If a Kashmiri student is assaulted, is this a form of political violence or an Islamophobic incident? But not only in terms of their physical attire, Muslim students feel a sense of discomfort even in terms of the intellectual scenario prevailing in the varsity. They do not feel comfortable discussing terrorism in class, and most are of the belief that there is no safe space or forum on campus to discuss the issues that affect them. Arshad Jawid, a student pursuing post graduation from the Department of Statistics in DU, said, “Muslim students, even at the post-graduate level, hesitate to engage in political debate, let alone contest the DUSU elections.”
A professor at Miranda House told our correspondent on conditions of anonymity, “Sometimes, even the professors can be the perpetrators of Islamophobia. I have had Muslim students coming to me with stories of professors who espouse views that malign an entire faith.”
Our question of whether Islamophobia exists in DU or not was met with mixed reviews, as was expected. But as we conclude this article, we realised that the question we started out with is not important. What is important is to acknowledge that our universities are places which are meant to provide a safe space for all students to engage in debate and discussion, free from the fear of persecution, harm, and bigotry. Islamophobia or not, the first step is to accept that there’s a problem. This issue plagues the student community of DU, and hence we won’t get answers to this problem in the news studio debates with Arnab Goswami nor will we find the answers in Patricia Mukhim’s editorials. The answers will materialise when students start walking out of classes, demand the resignation of professors with parochial mindsets, and stage protests to draw attention to discrimination on campus.
17 years ago, no one had heard of Islamophobia. Now even when we hear of it, isn’t it ironic that we choose to ignore it?
Feature Image Credits: Artist Unknown, Image has been taken from Feminism and Religion
Vaibhavi Sharma Pathak
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