Hundreds of students from Jamia Millia Islamia, a central university located in Delhi, participated in a dharna on campus for 15 days, which came to an end on 14 February. The students held the demonstration to demand the suspension of Hafeez Ahmed, the head of the university’s applied arts department, and an inquiry into the allegations against him. After two weeks of protests, the university’s administration gave in to most of the demands of the protestors, bringing the dharna to an end.
In the wake of the protests, students from different central universities as well as JMI’s alumni supported the demonstrations demanding Ahmed’s ouster. The protestors I spoke to charged Ahmed with various allegations of misconduct—including autocratic conduct, making sexist remarks, harbouring discriminatory feelings against Kashmiris and biased grading against select students in their exams.
This was not the first time that students of JMI’s applied arts department spoke out against Ahmed. Ahmed had first served a three-year tenure as the head of the applied arts department, until last year. According to the students I spoke to, his tenure was marred with controversies and complaints against him, and Talat Ahmad, the vice chancellor at the time, did not allow him to continue. After the Talat Ahmad left JMI, the students said, Ahmed was reinstated as the head of the applied arts department in the university’s faculty of fine arts. Shortly after, around fifty students wrote a letter to the dean of students’ welfare of the university, questioning the decision to reappoint him. According to the letter, Hafeez was accused of using foul language, discrimination and favouritism earlier as well.
A few students I spoke to substantiated the allegations against Ahmed concerning sexist remarks. Kulsoom Fatima, a second-year student pursuing a bachelor’s in fine arts, recounted an incident from when she was in her first-year at JMI and had gone to Ahmed’s office after class for some work. Ahmed asked her which students were present in class, Fatima told me. “My senior Dipesh was in class at the time, so I told him, ‘Dipesh bhaiya and other students are there.’” She said Ahmed replied, “Aap toh ‘bhaiya’ bol kar unke armaano par paani fer rahi hai.” (By calling him bhaiya, you are shattering his dreams.) Fatima said that Ahmed’s comment hurt her. Narrating another such incident, she said, “In front of an entire class, he said, ‘A woman’s success depends on her relationships.’”
A third-year student who requested not to be named said Ahmed had sent her messages on WhatsApp that made her uncomfortable. “A few days back, I was unable to come to college because I was sick,” the third-year student recalled. “To ask how I am feeling, Ahmed sent me a message calling me, ‘Appi’ and ‘Queen.’” The student said the message made her feel nervous and unsafe. She also shared the screenshots of this conversation with me, adding that she felt she helpless. “He is the head of the department—neither can I stop him nor can I pick a fight.”
Several students said Ahmed was unfit to be the head of the applied arts department, and that the department has a dearth of experienced teachers. When the protest began, Ahmed was the only permanent professor of the department, and teachers from other departments would conduct the rest of the classes, as guest faculty. According to some students, the guest faculty comprised of Ahmed’s friends who taught merely as a formality. They also said that Ahmed was partial to a few students with respect to giving marks. A second-year student pursuing a bachelor’s course at the department, Dhruv Mandal, told me, “Our future is in a limbo.”