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Friday, September 17, 2021

A new goal for Jamia

The university is among the most inclusive educational institutions. It must now move to integrate students with ordinary life at the institution by altering its social atmosphere.


Updated: September 5, 2021 8:24:29 pm
JamiaOn one hand, LGBTQIA-Muslims and Muslim women may not be fully included in Jamia largely for the culture that has been cultivated over the previous century. On the other hand, Jamia might be conducive for the full inclusion of Muslims who are conservative, upper caste and heterosexual. (File photo)

Written by Husain Aanis Khan

Jamia Millia Islamia will turn 101 this October. An important question to ask is what must Jamia do now to gear up the level of inclusion and diversity at its campus?

In 2019, the preliminary findings that I drew from the Diversity and Inclusivity in Minority Central University report indicated that Jamia was significantly accessible for non-privileged students. Though it is a win over many other elite institutions, Jamia should not prematurely celebrate inclusion.

Having provided access, it now needs to strive for the second mode of inclusion. Kenneth W Mack had theorised the first and second modes of inclusion as the two steps towards full inclusion. The second mode starts after admission has been taken by a student. The second mode of inclusion — as a disruptive, radical idea — changes some fundamental rules and assumptions that operate the institution. It integrates students with ordinary life at the institution by altering its social atmosphere, which eventually institutes full inclusion.

This is a novel, constructive criticism that can push for making the campus climate of Jamia—and other higher educational institutions at large—more inclusive.

The essence of the first mode is access; it removes formal barriers to the admission of those who were previously excluded because of direct or indirect discrimination. This one is a non-disruptive, moderate idea that grants students admission and a good treatment subsequently. The first mode of inclusion at Jamia draws breath through financial, regional and religious backgrounds.

Muslims are 14 per cent in India, however, across the student population of National Law Universities they are less than 1.6 per cent. Technically, Jamia as a minority institution provides access to Muslims who make for 63.77 per cent of the student body. Even students from Tier III and smaller cities are 46 per cent at Jamia, who are only 23 per cent at NLSIU. In the case of financial background, students in Jamia with an annual family income of less than a lakh per month are 73 per cent, whereas at NLSIU it is only 46 per cent.

The first mode gives access to non-privileged students as compensatory practice, making the student body of Jamia diverse. However, diversity doesn’t ensure the full inclusion of diverse groups, which in fact ought to be the final goal. For full inclusion, the second mode of inclusion needs to start thriving at Jamia.

The second mode starts after a student has procured admission. It strives to fully include students by altering the fundamental rules and assumptions that operate an institution. When an institution does not initiate the second mode, students rise up in protest to compel the institution’s administration to do so. The recent history of protests by students reflects Royall Must Fall and Racism Lived Here Too running across globally renowned law schools. These were all demands for fully including Black students who already had procured admission.

What they protested against were the rules and assumptions that excluded them from the ordinary life in the institution. Importantly, students face exclusion differently that too on grounds different from race, like disability, sexuality, religion, caste and gender.

In an interview at Jamia, a physically disabled student discussed with me the lack of special facilities like low-height podiums, toilets, washbasins, and unwanted hurdles to enter a classroom. It discouraged him from fully participating in the ordinary student life at Jamia. Likewise, an LGBTQ+ person complained that Jamia’s conservative culture impeded the formalisation of a queer collective. Referring to the culture, a bi-curious student said that couples felt prejudiced in Jamia, and mentioned an experience that disabled her from exploring her sexuality.

Jamia is diverse, so is the meaning of full inclusion, because different people define it differently. On one hand, LGBTQIA-Muslims and Muslim women may not be fully included in Jamia largely for the culture that has been cultivated over the previous century. On the other hand, Jamia might be conducive for the full inclusion of Muslims who are conservative, upper caste and heterosexual.

So, Jamia will have to challenge the rules and assumptions that create the ordinary (or normal) life at its campus. This is radical — probably even an assault on the Islamic and Jamian ethos that some claim — because it consequently changes Jamia (and the area outside it as well).

For instance, two years ago a fashion show was organised at Jamia. Some outsiders somehow associated with Jamia disrupted the show, saying it went against “Jamia ki Tehzeeb” (or culture). This is probably the conservative culture that excludes some and includes some. In this context, establishing a Queer Collective or making couples feel unprejudiced will eventually change the underpinning rules and assumptions. For this reason, the second mode is a radical idea that eventually does lead to full inclusion.

Let’s step out of our jurisdiction for a few lines: in 1936, a lawyer, Charles H Houston, won a case against the University of Maryland to invalidate the ban on black students, and got a black student named, Donald Murray, an admission. The same year Houston wrote, Don’t Shout Too Soon, to remind people that Murray’s admission was a cause for hope but not celebration. He implored people to define what full inclusion meant to them. It was, in fact, a call to interfere with the “ordinary routine” that excluded Blacks.

In a similar spirit, I say accessibility at Jamia should be seen as a beginner’s luck towards full inclusion, not as a final accomplishment. The excluded groups may eventually have to interfere with the ordinary routine to realise their right to be included. This will gradually change the fundamental rules and assumptions which operate the campus to facilitate full inclusion. So, the point is — let’s not shout too soon!

Husain is a research fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. He completed his BA, LLB from Jamia Millia Islamia in 2021.

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