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Justice for Najeeb Conference and 5 years of seeking answers

On the 14th of October, the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) held a conference in New Delhi to mark five years of the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed of JNU, in which issues of rampant Islamophobia and administrative inefficiency sprung forth. Read on to find out more. 

On the 14th of October, the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) to mark five years of the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed, held a conference titled ‘Justice for Najeeb Conference’ at their headquarters in New Delhi. The conference was attended by various students and activists, who extended sharp criticism towards the State failure to trace the missing student and University authorities on grounds of partisanship and adequate action. 

Abhigyaan, a member of All India Students Association (AISA) says, “These cases concerning students like Najeeb or for that matter Rohith Vemula point to a larger reality which we are constantly ignoring and that is that the university spaces around us are becoming more and more hostile and physically and mentally tolling with every passing day for students from marginalised communities. Just a few days back the KMC professor spewed venom against Keralite students and all of this is happening under the watch of the BJP government which has facilitated the infiltration of the RSS in the university spaces.” 

Najeeb Ahmed was a first-year M.Sc. biotech student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, India, who went missing from the Mahi-Mandavi hostel on the university campus under suspicious circumstances on 15 October 2016. His family, as well as the JNU Students’ Union, have consistently maintained that Ahmed’s disappearance was linked to an assault which occurred the previous night, when Ahmed was attacked by nine members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) after they had allegedly knocked on his door seeking votes for an upcoming hostel election. 

“Najeeb was a simple and sincere Muslim student. But being a Muslim is enough to make you disappear in India. The country has always been a Hindu Nation and has systematically crushed the Muslims. In this country, pre-planned violence is perpetrated against Muslims and then a narrative is built that these people themselves are responsible for the violence,” said Snehashish Das, General Secretary of Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association (BAPSA) at the conference. 

The conference, which was organised to mark his disappearance was attended by various students and activists, who extended sharp criticism towards the State failure to trace the missing student and University authorities on grounds of partisanship and adequate action. 

In this conference, Nadeem Khan, Convenor, United Against Hate, said that despite so many protests across the country including the famous 2017 Jantar Mantar Protest which was joined by the likes of Danish Ali, Prashant Bhushan and Arundhati Roy, Najeeb and his family is yet to find justice. Khan said in the conference, “I don’t think there have been as many protests in anyone else’s case as in Najeeb’s case. It is clear that if you are a Muslim then you cannot get justice. As long as discrimination against Muslims continues in universities, Najeeb’s movement will continue.”

Musab Qazi, National Secretary of SIO told us, “It is not just the physical safety of the students that we are concerned about – which of course is very important – but in general we want all our higher educational institutions to have a conducive environment for students from all marginalised sections of the society. It is not easy for them at all to get into prestigious institutes like JNU, DU or Jamia. Unlike others they don’t have the social capital to easily make a headstart like their fellow peers, and have to overcome various social hurdles. If the institutes are not sensitive or hostile towards them then it gets really difficult for these students. The administration can undertake sensitisation programs so that these students are not aware of their own privileges and are not communalised by the content available on media.” 

Social media propaganda is not new in our country. With brown-envelope and yellow journalism being in rampant circulation through major news channels like Republic TV, a sustained effort to colour narratives and provoke is most definitely underway. Commenting on the same Qazi said, “It is true that the ruling dispensation has greatly affected the violence around us. Not just media but in general art and culture around us….there is an attempt to rewrite textbooks moulded along the lines of their ideology and it is really a great concern for minorities and students from marginalised communities.” 

But is the violence, physical and psychological, faced by these students a savarna construct or a reality? An anonymous third year student from Miranda House told us, “The issue of Muslims in India is most definitely a sensitive topic. I have heard stories of blatant discrimination amongst students from other colleges and departments. So far I have been lucky in my experience but there have been several occasions when I have felt judged and stared at for my hijab. It is discomforting, not just for me but for my family who was deeply distressed in the first year I was physically in Delhi.” 

Sadat Hussain, a research scholar at JNU, shared his sympathy with Najeeb’s mother Fatima Nafees, who herself has been courageously waging a battle against the system for five years now. He added, “Najeeb’s struggle is not a struggle of our victimhood but it is to ensure that such an incident never happens again. While there is a mechanism in every university to prevent raging, there must also be a mechanism for the safety of Muslim students on campus.”

But that in itself is not enough. Speaking on administrative action, Qazi himself said, “It has been a long-standing demand to have only in the sphere of education a 5% quota for Muslim students. The Muslim community is even more marginalised than the Dalit community when it comes to education – something that has been confirmed by studies and reports. It is a big ask in this environment but the honourable court has already upheld this in Maharashtra even though they noted that the reservation given to Dalits is not constitutionally granted to religious communities, but in the case of education the court has made this generous exception.”

Abhigyan too added, “The students’ democratic movement which is being repeatedly targeted by the State will fight the battle to ensure university spaces remain egalitarian, democratic and equitable and welcoming for all students. We have seen the fight waged by Nadeem’s mother against the system and the silence of the police on the same. This is a larger fight for equality and we will see this through.” 

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Islamophobia in Delhi University’s Student Community: A Myth or Reality?

Image Credits: SIO Press Release 

Anwesh Banerjee 

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Nerdiest drama queen in town with a penchant for love poetry and pork baos.