Student activist Safoora Zargar speaks to TwoCircles.net about her ordeal.
Muhammed Nihad PV | TwoCircles.net
NEW DELHI — Jamia Millia Islamia on Monday, August 29 cancelled the M.Phil admission of student activist Safoora Zargar. Zargar’s M.Phil, which commenced in February 2019, looks into “socio-spatial segregation among Muslims in Delhi through a case study of Ghaffar Manzil Colony.” Zargoor is a vocal critic of citizenship laws and was jailed for over two months in 2020 for her involvement in anti-CAA protests.
In an interview with TwoCircles.net, she talked about her ordeal, and how she sees the decision by the university administration to cancel her admission.
You have been active in campus politics. Did you face any discrimination before your arrest? And did you experience any change on campus after you got out of prison?
I have been quite active in the campus as well as my department since 2016 when I joined the university. I used to take part in department programs and I was on good terms with my professors. After the arrest, I could feel the change in their attitude. It is not like the professors are buying the state-media narrative. As far as I believe, they are Sociology professors and they know well how students’ politics work and how campuses engage with the state. But since I got out of jail, the department and the administration have gained this impunity to do whatever they wish regarding my matters as I am already a victim of a state witch-hunt. I even doubt that by cancelling my admission or by vilifying me they think they could be on the good pages of the Sangh Parivar.
The administration claims that the decision was made after due process and your supervisor argues that your research work is insufficient. How do you respond to it?
My application for an extension has been put on hold for over eight months and nothing has been communicated to me properly till now. I tried all ways of communication including requesting, pleading, arguing and even fighting. These hardly made any impact. I completed three years in February 2022, with one COVID extension and a normal extension available for all scholars. In December 2021, I submitted another application for a COVID extension, in which the department only granted two months till February 2022. When the department verbally declined to forward my application for a full six-month extension, as per the University Grants Commission (UGC) notification, I wrote to the registrar and I think this might have bothered my supervisor. It was after this that the department pressurised me to apply for a one-year extension under the category available for women scholars in April 2022.
I have submitted my progress work after regular intervals and all of them were approved. In November 2021, my supervisor sent me an email acknowledging her satisfaction with the fieldwork. If they wanted to make substantial suggestions they could have done that earlier and made me work accordingly. But they never did that. My experience with the Registration Appeals Committee (RAC) has been traumatic. No member has ever intervened or expressed their opinions regarding my supervisor’s decisions. Instead of engaging with my work critically, once a member spoke to me very rudely: “kaam waam kuch karte nahi ho aur muh uthaakar chale aate ho” (You don’t work yet come in here with a raised face). Earlier, I was humiliated at the RAC for not taking maternity leave and they mocked my pregnancy telling me not to be ashamed of it. Behind the curtain of the excuses they make, I think they only want me to cancel the admission and quit my research.
What is the reaction of the teaching community? Are they in solidarity with you?
I am proud of my institution but it saddens me to say that since 2016 I haven’t seen teachers here taking the side of the students in any of the issues. They are consumed by their career and promotions that they are not able to face these ethical questions.
How do you see the way ahead? What is the solution you propose?
I have already made it clear in the letter written to the Vice Chancellor. The extension that I am asking for is rightful. Observing the current status of my thesis, anyone acquainted with the research process would say that I could easily complete it. But I won’t be able to work under my present supervisor. Disagreements between scholars and their supervisors are very common but if there is no room for reconciliation there is no way other than working under a new guide. I often feel like my dignity is under attack. Even after contacting her several times, she hasn’t even shown the courtesy to meet me and discuss things. Even after fixing meetings several times, she would find reasons to cancel them. Without even properly talking to me, how could she judge my work?
Muhammad Nihad PV is a sociology student at the University of Hyderabad. He tweets at @nihadbinnisar