The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has been at the centre of a controversy over the past two days. It all seems to have started with a tweet by a Delhi High Court advocate and subsequent posts in propaganda websites like internethindu.in. Soon the mainstream media followed, with headlines stating that AMU was under fire for “forced starvation” of non-Muslim students.
So, what is the truth? Is the university really denying food to non-fasting students? Like all controversies, this one, too, is a little complicated and not as black and white as Twitter commentators would have you believe.
How it all started
What started this controversy is an email written by a Bachelor of Law student, who happens to be a Muslim. On May 28 — one day after Ramzan started on May 27 — Anwar H Azad wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of AMU on behalf of “non-Muslim friends” and as well as “Gair-Rozdaars [those who do not fast during Ramzan]”.
Campus Politik has assessed the email.
Azad is from BR Ambedkar Hostel in AMU, which was not serving lunch during regular hours, that is, between 12:00 to 2:30 pm, during the month of Ramzan. Azad sought to inform the VC about “arbitrary discontinuance of food” and said that this would affect many students. In his email, Azad stresses that Ramzan and fasting must not affect others and that “we cannot neglect our duty towards our fellow friends”.
Azad says he wrote the email to the VC for “public welfare and goodwill”. “I didn’t know that this would be given communal shade,” he says.
It is to be noted that the practice of not serving lunch during Ramzan was particular to the BR Ambedkar hostel.
The standard practice
Like any other university, at AMU, too, dining schedules are slotted in three shifts — breakfast (8 to 10 am), lunch (12 to 2:30 pm) and dinner (7:30 to 9:30 pm). However, during Ramzan, since many students observe Roza, hostel messes tweak the timings for fasting students – they are given breakfast at 3:30 am during sehari and the next meal of the day is served at iftar at 7:10 pm.
But what about non-fasting students? AMU has never had a blanket rule for non-fasting students during Ramzan, be it Hindu or Muslim students or indeed students from any other religion.
For non-fasting students, dining schedules differ from hostel to hostel depending on what the mess incharges and provosts decide.
There are 17 hostels in AMU out of which five are girls’ hostels – all these serve meals at regular timings for non-fasting students, along with special meals at sehari and iftar. For example, girls’ hostels such as Begum Sultan Jahan Hall and Abdullah Hall continue to serve three-time meals to non-fasting students at regular hours.
Then, there are hostels like BR Ambedkar Hall, where Azad stays, which do not serve lunch for non-fasting students, but serve breakfast and dinner at regular timings.
There are two hostels in AMU, Hadi Hassan Hall and Nadeem Tareem Hall, which do not serve meals at regular hours but only during sehari and iftar during Ramzan. These hostels are for medical and engineering students and have private canteens in the hostel that remain open during Ramzan. The canteen timings are 8:00 am to 9:30 pm. But this time, the canteen in Hadi Hassan Hall has been closed due to “dull business”. “No one eats during Ramzan and the business go down. So I prefer to keep it closed till 7 pm,” said the canteen owner requesting anonymity.
Then there are also hostel messes that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to non-fasting students in their rooms at regular hours.
Another hostel, Habib Hall, on the other hand, prepares food at regular hours for non-fasting students, but only on demand.
Dr Suhail Sabir, provost, Habib Hall explains, “Since the number of students eating lunch in mess is very low, we don’t make it as usual but on demand. If any student wants lunch, he can inform the mess incharge and food will be prepared for him. There are several non-Muslims who’ve demanded food while several others have not. We make food accordingly.”
The problem, then, seems to be ad hoc nature of dinning rules during Ramzan and the trouble this creates for non-fasting students. One of the students at Hadi Hasan Hall, Gurudutt Vishwakarma, complained about this system, “We are not provided breakfast and lunch here. The canteen is also closed. I had to go outside the campus to eat.”
For some students, it is the quality of the food that is a bigger problem than timings. Pankaj Rastogi, third year BA LLB student from BR Ambedkar Hall, says, “I don’t want lunch. We usually skip it anyway. All we want the administration to do is to improve the quality of dinner.”
The Dean of Students’ Welfare, Professor Jamshed Siddiqui, told this reporter that for almost five years, Ramzan used to fall during summer vacations in AMU, that is, between the months of June and July. He said that if food was not being served in some hostel messes, it is owing to mismanagement.
He further said, “There is no restriction or diktat on food for non-Muslim students.”
AMU public relations officer (PRO), Omar Saleem Peerzada, told this reporter that the issue was blown out of proportion, “The university administration doesn’t really decide on hostels’ mess menus. It is decided by respective hall incharges. Since some halls were not providing food, the administration is looking into it directly. We’ll make sure that food is served to everybody till 5th of June.” The PRO also said that the mess fee for students who do not eat at the mess during Ramzan is waived off.
Meanwhile, realising that the issue is being given a communal angle, some non-Muslim students at AMU have stood up on social media to defend their institution.