For the last 26 days, students from various universities of the capital have been protesting outside the University Grants Commission’s (UGC’s) office at ITO against changes made in the non-NET fellowship. The participants of the ‘Occupy UGC’ protest have braved police clampdown, lathicharge and cold weather. Besides their determination, there is another strong reason for the movement’s sustenance — Mohammad Farooq, a member of the masjid committee of an adjacent mosque.
The mosque, managed by the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind (JUEH) right next to the UGC headquarters and the ITO metro station, opened its doors for the protesters after Farooq bhai — as he is called by the students — realised the students needed support for the movement.
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From giving the protesters access to the mosque’s toilet, to providing them a room to sleep in on chilly nights, mobile chargers, hot tea at night and even organising the occasional biryani party, Farooq and other JUEH members made it possible for the students to carry on the protest without worrying about these issues.
“We would often hear the students protesting, but we didn’t know what the issue was. One day, I noticed that women protesters had no place to relieve themselves. I asked Madani saab (JUEH leader Sayed Arshad Madani) if we could give them access to the mosque toilet and he instantly agreed. Since then, we have been giving them a place to stay, tea and even dinner at times because that is the human thing to do,” said Farooq.
Anmol Ratan, an activist of the All India Students’ Association (AISA), says without Farooq, his younger brother Danish and others, the movement would not have lasted so long. “We never had to ask for anything. As soon as the clock struck 12, tea would be served to us. Danish brought mobile chargers and Farooq bhai got biryani, prepared in Old Delhi, for us,” he says.
Farooq and his team also serve tea and dinner to the policemen at the spot.
“I believe that the issues the students are fighting for affect all of us. We want our children to be educated, and for that, fellowships are important. I can’t understand why this issue has not been resolved till now,” he says.
“Once they leave, hamara mann nahi lagega (we will miss them),” says Abdulla, another committee member.
Farooq says that support to the protesters will continue. “Till they are here, they have our full support. On December 8, when a major rally is being planned, we have already decided that we will serve biryani to all the protesters,” he says.