Wah! Selective Secularism, at its best. This would likely be more and more of the way of life to expect in West Bengal over the coming years, till it reaches the pre-partition days of Suhrawardi Khan. The approximately 25% vote-bank of the minorities is hard to ignore. So it is not expected that there will be any protest by any politician or political party, be it of the ruling CPIM Dada or the aspiring Trinomool Didi .
The great ‘selectively liberal’ Indian media and the ‘selectively humanitarian’ rights activists, who could go on relentlessly against ‘Ram Sena’ or ‘Bajrang Dal’ are nowhere to be found to report against Islamic ‘diktat’.
For the past three months, 24-year-old Sirin Middya has not been able to hold her classes at West Bengal’s first Muslim university. While the guidelines at Aliah University in Kolkata don’t stipulate the same, the students’ union has demanded that Middya can teach but only in burqa.
Middya was appointed a guest lecturer at the university in March this year and got the union “diktat” in the second week of April. “I was told that I would not be allowed to attend college if I did not agree to come in a burqa. The University Grants Commission does not prescribe any such dress code and even the university does not have a dress code. But the most unfortunate part is that students are forcing us to wear burqa,” Middya told The Indian Express.
According to her, she has no issues with wearing a burqa — but if she dons one, it would be of her own free will.
Siamat Ali, secretary of West Bengal Madrasah Students’ Union, says he doesn’t understand Middya’s problem.
“There are eight women teachers at the university. It was decided through consulation that the women will observe purdah, and most teachers agreed. Only this lady has a problem,” Ali said, adding that they were ready to welcome Middya back as long as she adhered to the “decent” dress code.
The university has chosen to play safe, putting the issue on the backburner and hoping it dies down.
“This is a stray incident… we tried to nip the problem in the bud. There is no dress code in our university. Since there was a problem, we asked the teacher to report to the Salt Lake campus,” said Vice-Chancellor Syed Shamshul Alam.
The university was set up in 2008 by upgrading the famous Calcutta Madrasah which was started in 1781 by Warren Hastings, Governor General of Bengal. One of the oldest centres of higher learning and culture in the country, the institution has had many eminent scholars in its ranks. Aliah University was expected to harmonise tradition and modernity, and while its Islamic cources are run in the Calcutta Madrasah building, the other academic activities are conducted on different campuses at Salt Lake.
Middya joined Aliah University after an M.A. in Bengali from Jadavpur University. Having refused to kow-tow to the union, she has been unable to go to Aliah’s Calcutta Madrasah campus, and reports to the university’s library at Salt Lake. “Without taking any classes, I am given the full prescribed salary by the university,” said Middya.
“Most of the teachers do not like the diktat of the students to wear burqa. But they have no option but to accept it. This is Talibanisation of educational premises and there is no one to our rescue,” she said.
On June 4, nearly two months after she was virtually barred from the campus, Middya wrote to West Bengal’s Minister for Minority Development Abdus Sattar. She said she was yet to get a response.
Prior to this episode, Aliah University had faced another row when the students’ union held protests demanding that the word “madrasah” be added to its name.
With the university itself silent on the Middya issue, other teachers’ unions such as the All Bengal University Teachers Association (ABUTA) have decided to launch a movement.
“The university and the government should have protected this teacher and other teachers so that their fundamental rights were not infringed upon. Whereas in other parts of the world, even in Muslim countries, wearing a burqa is not mandatory, here the Left Front government has failed to protect the rights of the teacher,” said Tarun Naskar, general secretary of ABUTA.