UG girls' library access row: HRD minister Smriti Irani asks AMU VC to explain

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New Delhi/Aligarh, Nov 11: Government on Tuesday sought an explanation from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) over not allowing access to women undergraduates to the main library in the campus, with HRD Miniser Smriti Irani saying it amounted to an "insult to daughters".

The AMU, which was at the centre of a controversy over the restriction for women undergraduates, cited space constraints and refuted the charge of having a "sexist approach".

Taking serious note of it, Human Resource Ministry sought explanation from the AMU Vice Chancellor Zameer Uddin Shah with Irani asserting that education and constitution rights were same for all. "...there are some reports which hurt you as a woman and also agitates you that when we attained freedom there was a belief that education and constitution rights were same for all....and now we get reports that amounts to insult to daughters," Irani said on the sidelines of a function in Delhi.

Facing flak, the Vice Chancellor gave the explanation 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 said there over 4,000 female undergraduates and the library cannot accomodate them due to space constraints. His remarks that there would be "more boys" in the library if girls were allowed in drew sharp reactions from several political leaders, activists and students.

Shah 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".

Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah termed the Vice Chancellor's remarks as "appalling" and "shocking" while the new MoS in the Ministry Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said such remarks were "not acceptable in a civilised society".

"I do find it appalling especially on the day when Maulana Azad's birth anniversary is there. Azad 62 years ago focussed on girls education. I am really surprised. This day, somebody talks like that as the head of an institution, it is shocking," Heptullah said.

Social Justice Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot said that instead of addressing the issue, "prohibiting somebody from not going (to the library) is not right. Arrangements should be made so that all students go to the library and study," he said.

Terming Shah's statement as "regressive and antediluvian", National Commission for Women chairperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam wondered "Is it legal for them (AMU) to bar any student regardless of gender from acessing such services in a university?" Seeral women undergraduate students came out in the open demanding access to the library, saying such "discrimination" should stop forthwith.

The Vice Chancellor 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 yesterday 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, adding, "the issue of permitting undergraduate girls would have to wait until we have created necessary extra space.

"Once these issues have been resolved, 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.

"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".

When contacted, the Principal of the Women’s College, Naeema Khatoon said it was an "unnecessary controversy created out of nothing".

PTI

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