While students of the Aligarh Muslim University assembled in protest yesterday against the clash with police (on May 2), another confrontation was taking place at two of the university’s women's hostels: Abdullah Hall, and Indira Gandhi Hall.
Barred by the university administration from joining the student protests at AMU’s Bab-e-Syed gate, the undergraduate and masters residents literally broke open the gates to their hostels.
Fizza Husain, 28, a research scholar at the Department of Economics and a member of campus feminist group Qafila told VICE that female students wanted to join the protest on Thursday, as there had been sparse participation of women in the events of the previous day. “The girls had themselves decided that they would make their presence felt in this hour of crisis for the university,” Husain said.
The women’s hostels at AMU are usually locked at around 6 PM. However, the administration, worried about the safety of the students, informed the women that the hostel gates would be locked at 3 PM, before the protest was to start.
Husain said, “When we got to know that that there were locks on the gates of two hostels, we asked some male members of the Students’ Union and activists to convince the provost to open the doors.”
At both hostels, women began arguing with the authorities to open the doors. They first broke the locks, and then the gates.
Afreen Fatima, 19, a student of Abdullah Hall, said that about 150 women gathered at the chai dhaba of the residence. Women leaders went to speak to the provost. ““The provost said you can go if you take your own responsibility, to which we agreed. But they kept stalling it on one pretext or the other.
Breaking the lock at Indira Gandhi Hall.
“The girls waited for two more hours till 5 PM, then picked up some kind of iron rod from the ground and broke open the door,” said Fatima. “We were actually not sure we would be able to break it. And when it did, it was a moment of joy. Girls are afraid of being debarred or of character assassination. Even today some people called us chichori ladkiyan who want to go out among boys.”
At Indira Gandhi Hall (a masters’ student residence), the authorities closed the gates and weren’t allowing students to leave under any pretext, said Sidra Sohaib, 23. First, the students broke the locks. Here too, the hostel provost asked students to write waivers. “We gave that,” Sohaib said. “Then she asked us to write we have broken the locks. Arguments were happening in this regard. Some male students were also helping us. But by then, things started to heat up, and the girls broke the gate.”
“There was a lot of energy in everyone when that happened,” said Varisha Sami, a philosophy student. “Having done nothing [during the police clash] while the male students were beaten down, it was just infuriating to hide behind the hostel walls.”
Shazia Imam, 20, a graduate student of Economics, told VICE that joining in the protest was a message to other students. “One of the speaker in the protest pointed out we have become equal today. If we weren't there today out of our fear or spineless attitude, we would have always been dependent on them,” she said.
Lubna Irfan, a research scholar of history, told VICE that male students stood on the road between the two hostels and the main campus in order to support the women as they marched towards the protest. “This moment will stand as an example of how gender justice is important in larger struggles for student unity,” said Irfan.
Said La’maan Haider Moulaey, 23, “We showed that we can take a stand to protect our Alma Mater from the ones who say we need to be protected.”
Student Union president Mashkoor Ahmad Usmani asked women to join the protests again today (AMU has a separate union for its Women’s College). “Crush the barriers like you did yesterday and stand united for justice”, he said in a WhatsApp message this morning.
Fizza Husain said she felt this was the first time on campus that women raising their voices in public wasn’t considered a negative thing. “I remember a time when the women leaders were cat-called, but today, when they attained the stage, everyone was listening to them in silence,” she said. “When the women’s leader Naba Naseem [president of the Women’s College Student Union] took the stage and told them ‘we have broken locks to be with you’, the crowd cheered. It was a historic moment in the fight for gender equality in the campus.”
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