- Women are not allowed in the library of Aligarh Muslim University. This issue came to the fore when HRD minister Smriti Irani sought an explanation from the AMU authorities as to why undergraduate women were excluded from the library and called it an “insult to daughters”.
- Several arguments have been offered to support this discrimination – Vice Chancellor Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah expressed the view that the issue of space and not of discipline. He was reported as saying that since the library is “jam-packed” with boys and if girls were also allowed this would cause a problem of discipline; that if girls were allowed in, there would be “four times more boys”. (Source – Times)
- Apologists of the discriminatory rule have said that the this rule is also in place for the comfort of those conservative Muslim parents who would not let their girls study at co-educational institutions. Those who want to defend the rule also point to various educational institutions that are free to decide whether they are co-educational or want to remain unintegrated (gender segregated) institutions. (Source – NDTV)
- The problems here are obvious – firstly there is the fact that equal opportunities are not accorded to males and females here. The library, admittedly an excellent, well stocked facility, is not available to undergraduate girls of the Women College (except via an inter-library loan desk facility)
inter-library loan desk facility
but is available to undergraduate boys. Here a facility is offered to males to the detriment of girls – the rights of girls are circumscribed but not those of boys. The girls are competing with the boys without getting a level playing field. This is discrimination, plain and simple.
- Another problem here is that segregation of the genders is seen as not only acceptable but desirable. The presumption here is that men and women are best kept apart, that a mixing of the genders will give rise to an environment of permissiveness. This is as objectionable too.
- Thirdly there is the presumption that men can somehow not control themselves when in close proximity to girls. This is insulting to men, perpetuates a gender stereotype and reinforces the discomfort that boys and girls have in mixing with each other.
- Fourthly there is the assumption that Muslim families are more conservative as a rule; that they are reluctant to educate their girls and are more comfortable with gender segregation than other communities. This is insulting too.
- This controversy brings to the fore, an age old argument; the one that examines the pros and cons of co-educational institutions. Is gender segregation of schools desirable at all? Is it natural for boys and girls to grow up in single gender environments? Or is it better for boys and girls to interact regularly and get used to an environment of inclusivity where they may grow up more socially adept?