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'Jamia is a modern, liberal, non-denominational institution'

The Pioneer, New Delhi

Faced with mounting criticism for Jamia Millia Islamia's decision to defend its students arrested by Delhi Police on the charge of being members of the terror group Indian Mujahideen and accused of being involved in terror bombings, the Centrally-funded university's Academic Council has issued an 'open letter' clarifying its position and views. The following is the text of the 'open letter':


"Our founder was none other than the Mahatma, the Father of the Nation. The likes of MA Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Jamnalal Bajaj, Devdas Gandhi, and Zakir Hussain have nurtured us.


Please allow us to take you through some of the landmarks of the Jamia Millia Islamia. You may discover much that is new and perhaps different.


As you cross the Holy Family Hospital, please notice a large gate named after Qurattulain Hyder, a universally acclaimed novelist in Urdu. Some metres away is the Gulistan-i-Ghalib, named after a poet who discounted all religious distinctions. The Dr Zakir Husain Library is located in that complex. Surely, he needs no introduction... Just in case you've forgotten, let us remind you that he was our vice-chancellor from 1926 to 1948, and the President of the Republic.


After crossing over to the other side of the street from the library, you will notice a much smaller gate designed by the architect, late Satish Grover. It is the Bab-i Azad, named after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a secularist par excellence. Somebody described him as the 'Prince among Patriots'. He was one of Jamia's benefactors. Next to it is the Bagh-i (Guru) Nanak, the symbol of tolerance, humanity and goodness.


Walk a few steps before entering the Dabistan-i Gandhi: this complex houses the MA Ansari Auditorium (Congress president in 1927 and the Mahatma's 'infallible guide' on Hindu-Muslim issues); (Jawaharlal) Nehru House; Safdar Hashmi Amphitheatre; and the (Fidel) Castro café. All these, and many other names (ie, Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution; Mridula Sarabhai House; Khan Abdul Ghaffar Enclave; Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women's Studies; Jamnalal Bajaj House) reflect Jamia's Weltanschauung.


As we reflect on the events of the past week, we are disturbed and distressed by the misperceptions about our institution propagated by some sections of the media and civil/political society. Surely, this is not what we deserve considering our liberal and progressive record since October 1920, the year of our birth. We were in the forefront of the national movement wholeheartedly, and opposed the pernicious two-nation theory. Today, we are the proud inheritors of the Nehruvian legacy of pluralism and secularism. Rest assured, that there is no wavering in our liberal and secular commitments. We are and will remain an indispensable part of the composite edifice called India. We embody the idea of India.


A student of London School of Economics was found guilty of being a terrorist. Does that turn such a prestigious institution into a terrorist camp? Then why Jamia?


Ham aah bhi karte hain to ho jate hain badnam

Woh qatal bhi karte hain to charcha nahin hota


Remember, we have no ideological or political agenda. Remember, too, that we are not a denominational institution. As a modern, liberal institution of higher learning, we are engaged in teaching and research. What is more, our doors are open to all, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs alike, for we recognise no religious distinctions. We do not offer instruction in Sunni and Shia theology; instead, we offer courses on civilisations and on Hindu ethics.


We teach Hindi, just as we have in place the departments of Urdu, Arabic, Persian, and several European languages. We are only the second university in the country (after Patiala ) to have a full-fledged Centre for the Study of Comparative Religions and Civilizations. In January 2009, we will host an International Conference on this theme. His Holiness the Dalai Lama will inaugurate the conference.


We have a Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution that has promoted dialogue between the countries within the sub-continent and overseas. On October 2, we hosted an international meet on peace, focussing on MK Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the 'Frontier Gandhi.' We study West Asia, just as we explore the politics and economies of our neighbours in the Academy of Third World Studies. We study art, painting and architecture. We have a rich repository of papers at the Munshi Premchand Archives.


We produce scientists, historians, engineers, lawyers, poets, novelists and social scientists. Our Mass Communication Centre is one of the best in Asia. Our department of History is next to none in India. Soon, we will launch our College of Dentistry. Our Museum of Independence, the first of its kind in any university in India, will document the histories of our epic struggles against colonial rule.


Given our limitations, we cannot, however, counter the campaign of sections of the media to sully our image. But what we can do is to uphold and defend our secular inheritance. We unreservedly condemn and denounce acts of terror, whether they happen in Delhi, Gujarat, Kandhamal, or Mangalore. Indeed, we must not allow our democratic and secular fabric to be weakened. In that, we must be active crusaders against mindless violence.


The past week has been harrowing for all of us. We have lived in fear, fear of the police, fear of journalists descending on our campus without the approval of the university authorities, and fear of the OB vans parked from one end of the campus to the other. All this took place while the campus was absolutely peaceful. What were they in search of? To seize on a remark in order to demonise the students, or to twist and turn a stray comment out of context to castigate the institution. Mirza Ghalib would have said:


Ham kahan ke dana thay kis hunar mein yakta thay

Bay sabab hua Ghalib dushman aasman apna


We will have a week-long Educational Festival starting on October 29. Our students will sing and dance and participate in debates. We will stage plays and screen films. Poets will recite poetry, and musicians will perform in concerts. We earnestly hope the OB vans and their occupants will return in happier times to record our vision and commitment to democracy and pluralism.


The silver lining in this entire episode has been the exemplary conduct of our students, teachers and the administrative staff. They have withstood the prevailing tension and exercised exemplary restraint and shown utmost patience. They have, indeed, helped the university authorities to maintain normalcy on the campus.


Friends and well-wishers must rest assured that we will not allow our detractors to malign our institution, because of an incident that took place well beyond the confines of a demarcated campus.


We are issuing this open letter because we are deeply concerned by the manner in which communalism and terrorism have begun to feed each other. That way lies disaster.


While concluding this 'Open Letter', we appeal to our colleagues and dear students to remain calm and not to be swayed by religious or political rhetoric. Please have faith in us. We will do our best to safeguard the interests of our students, teachers, and the administrative staff.


The Jamia Millia Islamia has been an epitome of communal harmony. It was the place where Hindus and Muslims worked together for the Independence of India. Today, we are once again confronted with the challenge of taking such a role. We appeal to people all over the country for their support. Jamia's present and future is of interest to the entire nation, and not just to its students and teachers. That is why we have chosen to share our anguish with all of you. This is, if you like, raison d'etre of this letter.


Shab-e zulm-e nargha rahzan se pukarta hai koi mujhe

Mein faraz-e daar se dekh loon kahin karwan-e sahar na ho


Eid Mubarak!


Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi