For all its worldwide repute,the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has always lived with an uncomfortable charge that of excluding its women from public spaces. Interestingly,the gender lines are drawn even beyond the campus. By university passouts,for instance,who continue to call the over-a-century-old alumni body,AMU Old Boys Association (AMUOBA).
So,late on Sunday night,when journalist Arfa Khanum was elected the vice-president of AMUOBA,Delhi Chapter,she became only the second woman to make it to the post after social activist Azra Sultana,who held the post four years ago. No other woman was in the fray for any of the associations 12 posts this time like almost every time earlier,ever since the Delhi Chapter was formed in 1972. AMUOBA was formed in 1899 at Aligarh and has branches in many cities in India as well as Dubai and London.
Azra was the only woman office-bearer in her time,like Arfa was the sole woman candidate this year amongst a total of 33 candidates for various posts, confirmed Fasiullah Khan who won the secretarys post. AMUOBA has around 2,800 life members,of which around 15 per cent are women.
Around 1,500 former students,both men and women,had converged at Taimoor Nagars community hall on Sunday to cast their ballot. A large number of AMU passouts but non-members of AMUOBA and present students too milled about,lending credence to the fact that the association is more than just a platform for interaction of batchmates.
Unlike most other universities alumni associations,AMUOBA is known to exert influence on a slew of issues concerning the university like selection of new vice-chancellors,the admission policy,student movements,etc.
Coming back to the alumni bodys name,is it a vestige of the colonial empire? Asif Jah,a prominent member of AMUOBA,says,It (AMUOBA) is indeed called so because of the British influence. Over the years,there have been talks to change the name to AMU Old Boys and Girls Association. There has,however,never been a concrete proposal in this regard.
President Khwaja Shahid adds,The name was kept after such bodies at Oxford and Cambridge. It signifies only a tradition… there is no gender connotation to it.
Ask Arfa if she is fine to be referred as an Old Boy and she laughs: Its funny…calling a new girl an old boy. Then,on a sober note,she adds: I wonder why the name hasnt been changed yet.
The new vice-president,therefore,has her task cut out. The issue of name change is very much on the cards though there is some resistance to it. It was earlier raised by other women members like Mohsina Kidwai but to no effect, she says.
Her other agenda for her two-year tenure includes creation of a support system for AMU students in their search for jobs in Delhi,creation of a mechanism for students interaction with personalities of national stature,launching a magazine and upgrading the associations website.