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Sexual Harassment on the Rise in Aligarh Muslim University

Two teachers have been suspended for sexual harassment. A woman student quit because she could take it no more. Another had her clothes pulled for her "un-Islamic" dress.//Now an angry student is on hunger strike. The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Uttar Pradesh is in ferment.

Worse, many of AMU's women students - they number a staggering 5,000 of the 28,000 student population - are being told that they are bringing a bad name to the university by protesting.

But girl students told IANS they cannot take it any more. The authorities, they say, do not even allow them to step out of the campus. They need to take permission if they go out even for coaching classes. There are no such curbs on male students.

Asma Javed, who has been on hunger strike since Thursday outside the vice chancellor's house, told IANS on phone from Aligarh: "I have been punished for daring to complain against a professor. I have been threatened time and again. They want me to withdraw my complaint."

Asma, who was even shot at on the campus but survived, said: "The professor used to invite me over to his place and offer money."

Disgusted, she complained to AMU's women's grievance cell and the police. Goaded into action, the university suspended Mohammed Shareef, a reader in Sanskrit.

"This isn't the first complaint against Shareef. I am now being victimised for speaking up," said Asma, who wants Shareef axed. She alleges she is being denied admission to a PhD course.

In the last six months, three complaints have been lodged with the women's cell. Students say nine of them went to lodge complaints but only three were accepted.

Amina Kishore, principal of AMU's Women's College, told IANS: "Asma suspects she was not given admission because she lodged a complaint. That is not true."

Asked when Asma's case will be heard, Amina said: "A date has not been fixed."

Students say this isn't the only compl aint the women's cell is sitting on.

Earlier, a 21-year-old student, Farah Khanum, a journalism student, was threatened for wearing T-shirts and jeans.

She complained to the vice-chancellor after two youths snatched her shawl and sped away on their bike.

Many girl students have always worn jeans on the AMU campus. But it is only now that some male students have begun picking on women wearing Western dresses.

When Farah approached the student union leaders, she was curtly told: "If you want to become Bhanwari Devi, go on with your campaign." Bhanwari Devi was gang raped in Rajasthan in 1992 for daring to report a child marriage.

A professor in the law faculty has also been suspended after an American Fulbright scholar accused him of making indecent sexual advances.

"At least six other incidents have been reported by women," says National Students Union of India president Jasim Ahmed.

Students say the university is not serious about complaints.

Two years ago, a law student got into trouble after writing about the problems at the university, one of India's oldest. The student, now at Harvard Law School, was disowned and forced to quit.

Two months ago about 1,500 women hostellers, who are not allowed to step of their campus, marched to the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital after a first year BA (Hindi) student, Yusra Ahmed, died due to the alleged negligence of university authorities.

The students demanded the resignation of the provost and wardens who insinuated that the dead girl was a "bad character" and had committed suicide.

AMU, which came up in 1876 to promote modern education among Muslims, follows very strict rules governing boys and girls. They are barred from mixing in their undergraduate years. No violation is tolerated.

The main student union in AMU is male dominated and technically represents the whole university. But the wo men have a separate union whose jurisdiction is confined to that part of the sprawling complex where women study and live.

Students admit that the protesting girls do not enjoy the backing of all women in AMU. "Some are too afraid to come out in our support," said one of them.


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