The creaking, old walls of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) are dotted with posters. On them, is a caged bird, ‘protected’ behind the bars of ‘faith’, ‘dignity’, ‘submission’ and ‘morality’. The bottom of the illustration reads — All the evil wants women freedom. The eulogy is a horrific endorsement of the idea that women must be protected from ‘monsters’ of ‘feminism’ ‘liberalism’ ‘atheism’ and ‘communism’ in order to avoid sexual abuse.
The message is clear. The walls of an educational institute, which has been a relic of India’s past and has symbolised progress — are now marred with a deep and unmistakable shade of misogyny.
These posters are the work of Islamic Youth Federation (IYF), a fringe outfit of the AMU unit formed in 2009 under the name of Student Association of Islamic Ideology. The organization, which was renamed in March, is based out of Delhi and has a small functioning center in AMU.
Some of the other posters include those which demand for a crackdown on the activities of the Cultural Education Centre, the creative wing of the university that brings together students to dabble in arts, music and theatre.
Pitting it as against Islam and its values, the fringe outfit has also initiated social media campaigns against the cultural activities taking place in the university. For them, the ‘liberal’, ‘communist’ values of girls and boys dancing and singing together, is against the ‘Aligarh Muslim University Tehzeeb’.
“We have issued all our posters in the interest and safety of women students and we are getting them to support us. The values of liberalism, feminism and communism are against our cultural legacy,” says Mohammad Akmal, an Arabic research scholar and also a member of IYF.
Countering regressive message
However, strong voices of dissent can be heard from the campus. Unhappy with IYF’s attempts of indoctrination, the women of AMU have been widely circulating an anonymous message on social media in response to the outfit’s ideological whitewashing.
In their message, they question why the “onus of protecting the dignity of women on women themselves and would do nothing to admonish the filthy behavior of Muslim men who require severe spiritual introspection.”
A faculty member of AMU shared the full statement on the condition of anonymity. “We, the women students of AMU would like to condemn and register our protest against the regressive, misogynistic poster brought out by the Islamic Youth Federation-AMU Unit. We condemn the representation of Muslim women as a caged bird,” it reads.
The women feel that IYF’s ideology not just misrepresents them and modern values but also their religion Islam.
“We also discard the representation of Islam and Islamic values as a cage. As Muslims, we consider Islam to be the source of our spiritual fulfillment, an inalienable part of our identity and reject its values to be iron bars that cage us,” adds the statement.
Citing the murder of a 19-year-old Bangladeshi woman Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who was burned to death for reporting that she was sexually harassed by her madarssa teacher, the statement also highlights that many Muslim women have shared experiences of being harassed while doing their hajj.
Questioning IYF’s logic that “Women’s dignity can be safeguarded through founding principles of Islam only”, the women add, “Wasn’t Nusrat or the several women who were performing hajj not abiding by the founding principles of Islam? Then why was it that they were subjected to such oppression including death?”
The statement ends with a scathing advice that IYF should educate and target men who have don’t respect women instead. “As adult, rational human beings we know how to navigate our lives keeping our faith intact and do not require the protection of any self-proclaimed Islamic organization. It is our ardent hope that organizations like IYF will spend some of their energy and resources in cultivating haya among Muslim men and teach them to lower their gaze,” it says.