The Aligarh Muslim University on Tuesday found itself in the midst of a controversy over not allowing access to women undergraduates to the main library in the campus but the institution said it was due to space constraint and denied having a “sexist approach”.
AMU Vice Chancellor Zameer Uddin Shah said that undergraduate girl students studying at the off-campus Women’s College do not have access to facilities of the Maulana Azad Library since it was established in 1960 and there was “no fresh ban”.
He noted that all postgraduate girls and women research scholars “have been enjoying round the clock access to the Maulana Azad Library since its inception” and rejected allegations of gender bias, terming them “not only erroneous but mischievous and defamatory”.
He said Women’s College is more than two kilometres from the main campus and all undergraduate students have access “to a top class separate library of their own”.
He said that a demand was raised on Monday to allow undergraduate girls to access the Maulana Azad Library but it was already burdened.
It can be met only after the “infrastructural issues have been resolved and arrangements for safe transport for girls have been made,” the VC said.
“I gave an assurance that presently we are not able to cater even to the burgeoning demands of boys and graduate girls for availing reading room facilities at the Maulana Azad Library and hence the issue of permitting undergraduate girls would have to wait until we have created necessary extra space.
“Once the infrastructural issues have been resolved and arrangements for safe transport for girls have been made, then we would certainly have no objection in permitting these girls to get physical access to the central library if they so wish,” he said.
The VC said he was “pained” that an impression was being created “as if AMU is against equal rights to women or that I have a sexist approach.
I want to reiterate that women’s empowerment is today a top priority of AMU and it is an article of faith for me to ensure that girl students at AMU are ready to compete with the brightest and the best in the country”.
Shah said arrangements are already there in place to deliver within 24 hours any book which is available at the main library and is not there at the Women’s College Library.
“In other words, they already enjoy all access to the Maulana Azad Library without being encumbered by the burden of physically visiting the library at all odd hours,” he said.
When contacted, the Principal of the Women’s College, Naeema Khatoon said it was an “unnecessary controversy created out of nothing”.
“The fact is that presently we are in the process of implementing major women empowerment programmes at the campus. We are providing WiFi access to all undergraduate girls at the Women’s College Library and very shortly, all digital books including e-journals presently available at the Maulana Azad Library will also be available to all undergraduate girl students in our College round the clock,” she said.
On Monday, the newly-elected girls to the Women’s College Students’ Union had demanded that the time for Women’s College Library should be extended by two hours and the Vice Chancellor immediately announced his approval, she said.
The Principal said, “As regards other avenues of empowerment, one of the demands of the girls’ students union leaders raised yesterday was that undergraduate girls should also have a representation in the main AMU Students’ Union.
The Vice Chancellor readily agreed to the suggestion and has initiated necessary administrative and legal steps for implementing this provision.
The Vice Chancellor has also initiated step for including a representative of the Women’s College in the University Court which is the University’s highest governing body. “This will be a historic move, but requires certain statutory changes in the University’s bylaws,” she said.