June 28, 2005
This is a tale of two colleges which threatens to divide one city right down the middle—on communal lines.
In an order that has no precedent, the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh has ordered that two prestigious colleges, both almost 50 years old, ‘‘swap’’ their premises. One is the MLB Girls College in the old city, a neighbourhood with a significant Muslim population. The other is the Hamidia Arts and Commerce College, about 4 km away, in the New Market area.
Behind this bizarre idea is state higher education minister Uma Shankar Gupta. His reason: ‘‘The girl students (at MLB) were facing lots of problems and a memorandum to this regard had also been submitted. Since the student strength and infrastructure in the two colleges are almost the same, we decided to go for the swapping.’’
The ‘‘problems’’ the Minister refers to are explained by Aradhna Malakar, the Bhopal chief of the women’s wing of the BJP’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP): ‘‘The decision is welcome. The students of the all-girls MLB (about half of the 300 students are Muslim, the rest Hindu) were being lured by the youth of the old city neighbourhood where the college is situated and conversions had become rampant.’’
What this order means
Both the minister and the ABVP’s claims run contrary to police records. A senior police official, who declined to be named, said that there were hardly any complaints of ‘‘eve-teasing’’ or harassment reported from the college. ‘‘There could be a few cases but such cases are routine even in other colleges situated in the New Bhopal areas or anywhere for that matter,’’ the officer said.
A group of Hamidia students filed a writ petition yesterday in the district court seeking quashing of the orders.
But with the government adamant on implementing the decision, there are fears that several Muslim girls in MLB could be wary of moving out of the old city area and travelling to Hamidia, a co-educational college.
A former professor at MLB college Shaifqa Farhat says that a large number of Muslim girls may lose out on higher education if the college was shifted out. Social activists even formed a human chain recently protesting against the decision. The activists and students say that the excuse of ‘‘eve teasing’’ is just that—an excuse.
‘‘If this is the reason that government is dishing out then clearly it is an admission that the law and order in the city is bad and the government cannot provide security to the children,’’ says social activist Abdul Jabbar. He points out that a significant number of burqa-clad girls used to attend the college despite resistance from their family members. ‘‘Now their families will get a reason to stop them from attending the college,’’ said Jabbar.
The NSUI alleges a sinister government plan behind the move. ‘‘They (government) have been always upto some mischief. First banning the fashion shows in college under pressure from the Sangh and now swapping the college premises to widen chasm between communities. The government will have to roll back its decision,’’ said NSUI general secretary Akhilesh Jain.
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