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Why Pakistan founder Jinnah’s portrait sparked violence at India’s Muslim university

A portrait of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah (seated in suit and tie) has sparked outrage in India’s university. (Supplied)

Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), one of India’s central universities and a religious minority institution, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently.

On 2nd May, a group of right-wing Hindu organizations entered into its campus – accompanied by a few local policemen – and raised slogans against Mohammed Ali Jinnah – the founder of Pakistan.

They were demanding the removal of Jinnah’s portrait at the Students’ Union Hall within 48 hours. They also attacked AMU students, injuring several in the process. AMU students have since been demanding action against the culprits.

Local police reportedly arrested the culprits but local leaders belonging to Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came out in their support and raised objection to such an arrest.

Later on Friday police used tear gas and carried out a brutal baton-charge on AMU students, including student’s union members some of whom were injured. A program which India’s former vice president Hamid Ansari was to attend was cancelled and internet services suspended.

The fury is over a portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, which has been up on the walls of Students Union Hall in AMU since 1938.

An AMU student targeted by right-wing Hindu activists receiving medical attention. (Supplied)

Campus under siege

AMU has been under siege since then. Students belonging to India’s top universities – including Banaras Hindu University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University – have come out in support of AMU students. They have voiced protests over assault on freedom and a surge of extremism and hate politics, which have targeted educational Institutions across India.

Former students of the university across the world have extended support by using the hashtag #WeStandWithAMU. AMU administration has had to postpone examination till May 12 and hundreds of AMU female students forced their way out of hostels to join protests.

Anubhav Sinha, Bollywood Film Director said: “I have studied in AMU for six years and there I have only met proud India”.

Saboor Ahmad Khan, Member, AMU Literary Club said” Over 10k students offered namaz e juma at bab e syed gate #AMU. Guess who was guarding us in campus? Our beloved hindu brothers and classmates 😊 Secularism is alive inside the walls of amu campus. One of my frnd came to me and said ‘tum namaz padho, hum dekhte hain kon ata hai’ (You offer prayers, we are here to protect you).

How it all started?

BJP member of parliament from Aligarh, Satish Gautam, wrote a letter to AMU Vice Chancellor Tariq Mansoor to explain why Pakistan founder’s picture remains on the walls of AMU student union office.

Instead of waiting for a reply, he released a letter to the local media, which is what led to intrusion of the university campus and subsequent unrest and raising of communal distress. Satish Gautam has himself been a member of AMU Court from 2014 to 2018.

Then there was fake news circulated by some Indian media houses that AMU students chanted “Bharat se Lenge Azaadi” (We will take freedom from India). The actual video footage suggested that the slogan was a call for freedom from oppression and hatred.

AMU MIC, Public Relations Office, Shafey Kidwai, on Tuesday, said the portrait has been there for decades. According to him, Jinnah was granted life membership of the student union in 1938 i.e. before the partition of India and it’s the tradition of AMU student union that the photograph of anyone who gets life membership of union are placed on the walls of the student union hall.

Father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi, CV Raman, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was among those who received honorary life membership of AMU Students Union.

AMU students protesting against attack inside the campus. (Supplied)

More intrigue

According to the AMU Students Union (AMUSU), the group of students who had entered the campus actually wanted to target former Vice President Hamid Ansari, who was inside the campus at the time. However, why they would have done this isn’t yet known.

Some attribute the deliberate escalation of conflict to an election campaign that is going on elsewhere in India where BJP is locked in an intense with the Congress party. Since communal conflagration helps BJP’s divisive politics, the party has tried to play up this non-issue for electoral gains.

No place for Jinnah in India?

Portraits of Muhammad Ali Jinnah continue to remain visible in several monuments across India including the Mumbai High Court Museum, in Shimla, Jinnah House in Mumbai and Jinnah Tower in south India.

It is also true though that Jinnah was one of the key figures responsible for India’s partition, which led to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people.

Social activist Sudheendra Kulkarni has criticized the BJP for creating an incendiary situation. “Grow up BJP! Don’t rake up a patently baseless controversy over Jinnah portrait in #AMU. Do not photoshop – that is, falsify – India’s history,” he is quoted to have said.

Dhruv Rathee and engineer and social media campaigner, said: “Since 1938, there was a portrait of Jinnah hanging in AMU suddenly in 2018, Yogi Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahni realized that it is anti-national. So they took out their revolvers and pistol, went to the university and beat up random students you decide, whose side are you on?”

The student community though is undeterred by efforts to communalize the situation. “The time is now, we are one and nobody, nobody can challenge this unity.” Eva Varshney, an AMU student said.

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Last Update: Monday, 7 May 2018 KSA 12:33 - GMT 09:33
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