Debating India


A brand new innings at Jamia

Friday 25 June 2004, by GHOSH*Lakshmi B.

NEW DELHI, JUNE 24. He made his way to the prestigious Jamia Millia Islamia here as a 31-year-old, bringing with him not just the knowledge and expertise of a subject that few considered interesting then, but also the distinction of being the country’s youngest professor in history.

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Photo: Sandeep Saxena
The new Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, Mushirul Hasan.

Over three decades later, seasoned historian Mushirul Hasan’s love affair with the University continues, with the academician who refused to leave the campus even when faced with a death threat making a fresh beginning now as its new Vice-Chancellor.

He may have been actively involved in the University’s academic process, but that clearly did not prepare him for the big job ahead. "It was totally unexpected. I was in Paris on a teaching assignment and had no idea that my name was being considered. So it was a big surprise for me,’’ says Prof. Hasan who has incidentally just finished his new book.

Despite his strong attachment to the University and the desire to "give back’’, Prof. Hasan admits that he is not exactly starting on a clean slate with the rather bitter experience of being attacked by students in 1992 - for his comments defending Salman Rushdie’s much talked about "Satanic Verses `’ — being on the back of his mind when he took the decision to accept the post of Vice-Chancellor.

"It was there, but then you have to move on in life and express yourself creatively in your writings. I have spent a lot of my time since 1992 writing books and newspaper columns. The important thing is not to get bogged down and cultivate within yourself the sense of martyrdom, but press on.’’

His strong bonding with the University was eventually enough to help him make up his mind in the end. "But, of course, I was tempted to come for more than one reason, the principal one being my close association with the academic and literary life of this University. I have never ever after joining this University considered leaving it or moving to greener pastures. I stuck to this place and like working here,’’ says the eminent scholar.

Having watched its activities from close quarters, Prof. Hasan knows very well the strong and weak points of the University. While admitting that it is essentially the liberal ethos and the absence of competition among its teaching community that makes it different, the eminent historian believes that "the competitive spirit which afflicts most of our higher education sector creates a lot of bitterness and is fortunately missing in Jamia which still has brotherly camaraderie. The "biradri’’ network here is real as people are actually related to each other in some way of the other,’’ he says.

But the need to enhance Jamia’s image is clearly high on his priority list and Prof. Hasan is already down to serious business by initiating the process for setting up new centres and building up a new image for Jamia. Known for its courses in social sciences, Prof. Hasan now wants to concentrate on new areas that could help raise the intellectual profile of the University. "The University is known by its social sciences, humanities and languages courses. It is not to say that the sciences are unimportant, but they have at any rate received greater attention. We need to be more visible in the realm of social sciences,’’ says the historian.

While pointing out that the University’s performance will help change its image, Prof. Hasan says: "The real challenge for me as the head, and I have spoke to my colleagues about it, is for them to acquire the instinct of competing with other universities in the spirit of raising the intellectual level of the university. There are some stereotypical ideas about Jamia that will stay. The message I have addressed to my community here is that we should endeavour to dispel the false notions about us through intellectual exercise and change the static image of Jamia, which is vibrant like any other university.’’

Less than two weeks into his new job, the historian has already set the pace for some new initiatives including some new centres and as also to make the social science courses more popular. He also wants to open the until now closed chapter of student union elections.

"I was one of the few involved in organising the last student union elections and would like to move it forward. We are looking at working out ways and means of drafting the constitution for a new union. Much water has flown down the Yamuna since the elections were stopped and we would like to have consultative bodies with students participating at all levels, so we know what their problems are,’’ adds Prof. Hasan.

See online : The Hindu

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