In an unsettling move, Jamia Millia Islamia on Monday suspended its Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women Studies and Centre for Exclusion Studies, leaving several employees, teachers and students uncertain about the future. However, the administration later withdrew the order.
Citing delays in extension from the University Grants Commission, the university, in its letter, said, “In view of the previous extension accorded by the University Grants Commission till 31st March 2020 expired and no further extension conveyed to the university, the Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women Studies, JMI, hereby ceased to exist and the staff both teaching and non teaching under plan/project mode are disengaged w.e.f 01.04.2020”.
The letter generated panic among the teachers and students alike with many feeling stranded in the times of coronavirus lockdown. Talking to NewsClick, Laraib Neyazi, a student of MA in Women’s Studies said that the registrar issued the notice in the evening leaving students in disarray. He added, “The centre is unique in its scope as well as teaching. On the one hand, the governments are campaigning about gender equality; on the other, the excellent centres are getting closed. Personally speaking, we have become better humans only after reading ideas of feminist writers and their experiences of humiliation, struggles and victory.”
Talking to NewsClick, a faculty member who requested anonymity said that they came to know about the order in the evening through a staff member. They said, “The centre has been running for 20 years and is a peer reviewed excellent centre for women’s studies. I do not know what prompted the university administration to issue this order, but is it not considering that the government has halted all major policy decisions. Even the courts are not hearing the petitions on a regular basis. Thus, it is quite incomprehensible that the decision was taken without consulting the UGC. If the university wants to close any of its centres, it is bound to inform the statutory bodies like the Academic Council.”
The teacher added, “The University Grants Commission had directed the university to turn the centre into a permanent establishment. Why did it not comply? Are they not aware of our work? We have been advising the government on policy decisions and on matters pertaining to women. We sensitise people about women’s issues and their problems.”
Afaque Haider, a PhD student at the Centre for Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, said that the order came as a sudden shock. He said, “I was shocked to see the order. I am in the final stages of completing my PhD. It was only at midnight when a friend of mine said that the order has been reversed.”
He added, “The centre was opened when Sukhdev Thorat headed the UGC. If they would close centres like ours, they would not be able to make sound policy decisions. For example, had the government consulted centres like us before announcing the lockdown, the results could have been less catastrophic for the migrant workers in India.”
Talking to NewsClick, Majid Jamil of Jamia Teachers’ Association said, “The order by the university was unfortunate given the unprecedented crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These centres engage a good number of teachers and non-teaching staff who cannot be shown the door all of sudden. When we came to know about the development, we reached the vice chancellor who assured us that the centres will not be closed. Later in the evening, the order was withdrawn.”