Dress code for AMU students sparks debate

Dress code for AMU students sparks debate

Aligarh Muslim University is a prized national institution of higher learning and any news about the campus attracts wide notice. The new initiatives...

Aligarh Muslim University is a prized national institution of higher learning and any news about the campus attracts wide notice. The new initiatives taken by Vice-Chancellor Zameeruddin Shah to infuse a better sense of discipline among the students have evoked mixed response.

This particularly concerns the move to revive the dress code for which AMU has been known since the days of its founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. The VC's initiative in effect calls for going back to the sherwani culture with the university logo tagged on one side of the collar, the wearing of a particular Aligarh-cut pyjama with the Turkish-style fez cap for headgear. Another proposal, which is of course of contemporaneous nature, aims to ban driving of motorbikes in hostel premises.

Even as the start of the Aligarh movement by Sir Syed in mid-1870s, synchronizing with the founding of the Aligarh College, was the first foray of the Muslims of India into the age of modernism in the post-1857 scenario, the present proposal to go back to the sherwani tradition has raised the hackles on the campus and is generally to be out of tune in present conditions. An extreme response is to term it as a Taliban-like fiat which, of course, is far from truth and is unjustified.

Ironically, Sir Syed, in his lifetime, was severely attacked by the Ulema and conservatives as a British toady for his modernist thinking and for fashioning the Aligarh College, progenitor of AMU, on Oxbridge model. Indeed, he faced bitter criticism over his liberal interpretation of religious teachings. The Ulema, on the other hand, smarting under the subjugation of the British, went for total boycott of their language and mode of education.

Contrary to all this, Sir Syed was an ardent advocate of the British way of education for his students. He stood for tempering scientific know-how with oriental experience. Thus, he did not hesitate to extend the hand of cooperation to the alien rulers, fully realizing that the community's, as indeed the nation's, best interests lay in collaboration, not in confrontation, with them.

Thus, he named hostels and halls of the college after Englishmen. Hence, the names like Morrison Court and Strachey Hall still exist on the AMU campus. A riding school, a swimming pool, a modern sports centre and games facilities were also established during his times.A Time has turned full circle. The dress code of sherwani and Aligarh-cut pyjama that had become an old story is now sought to be revived by the present VC. This has become a matter of hot debate.

The dress-form of the gentry of the past is seen as cumbersome and unwieldy in present times. Besides, there is an economic reason too for these reservations. A hark back to the more recent times of Nehru may be in place. As India's Prime Minister, Nehru had made achkan (form of sherwani) and churidar pyjama as the model national dress, but even that later became part of history.

Another initiative introduced by the VC places restriction on driving of motorbikes in the hostel premises. This obviously has been done with the safety aspect in view on the campus which has grown too crowded, notwithstanding the inconvenience caused to the large number of bike-riding students. A Another point of concern is the question of allowing unhindered entry of girl students in AMU's Maulana Azad Library. Once spacious enough, the Library has become too cramped with the burgeoning number of students, thus leaving little room for girl students of the university to make use of the library and its reading room facility.

The Women's College, founded by another pioneer of education, Sheikh Abdullah of Aligarh, remained a separate entity for quite a few years, but now forms part of AMU. The establishment of an institution to promote female education was no less a path-breaking event for the Muslim community around 1920s, and, as was the case with AMU, it faced stiff opposition from conservative sections.A Even as the new measures have set off quite a debate, the happy part of it is the absence of rancour on the issue between the traditionalists and the free-thinkers.

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