AMU Students’ Union -A Brief Historical Sketch
Dr Mohammad Sajjad*
The Aligarh College was a profoundly political enterprise [David Lelyveld, 1974: 317]. It has/ had an objective of injecting into the Muslim students, a mentality of belonging to a qaum- an ethos of solidarity- and to reach through them the greater social catchment area [Sekhar Bandyopadhyaya, 2004: 271]; to make them derive advantages and opportunities becoming available from the government. It also had to organize Muslim public opinion, by enabling its students to voice their demands effectively. In late 19th and early 20th centuries, they voiced their concerns on the issues like the Hindi-Urdu controversy, anti Cow slaughter campaign, employment, oppressive British imperialism, and launched a vigorous (successful) campaign for a Muslim University during 1898-1920.
The Aligarh Students’ Union had in fact passed a resolution advocating Hindu-Muslim political cooperation in May 1906 [Sumit Sarkar, 1983: 141]. This was despite the fact that the then Principal Archbold’s suggestion of “aloofness from political agitation”, which was particularly resented by the Aligarh students. This was the time when some of the elders associated with the college were engaged in exclusivist/ separatist politics.
Sir Syed’s vision of residential university concentrated on character building of students for all round personality development, for letting them emerge as intellectual and political leader. Till today, be it the corporate industrial and managing houses or the civil services, everywhere, leadership qualities are the prime considerations for recruiting technocratic-managerial personnel.
In short, national reconstruction has to be done through the educated youth who must be trained in intellectually informed political leadership.
Hence, with Beck, on the pattern of Cambridge University, Sir Syed, in 1884, established a debating club, known as the “College Union Club”, then became famous as “Sidon’s Union Club”, as its first President was Henry George Sidon’s. The first Vice President was a student named Sajjad Husain. The first Hony. Secy. was Syed Md Ali with 10 cabinet members of the Union. The main objectives of the Union Club were to produce good orators and wise leaders. From 1902 onwards, it also started having an honorary librarian; Nawab Ali was the first librarian. On 22 February 1905, Morison laid the foundation of “Sidon’s Union Debating Hall”.
In 1920, when it got the status of university with massive political mobilization (1898-1920), it came to be known as “Muslim University Union”, and its first Vice President was Syed Nurullah, (who later on became the Pro Vice Chancellor of AMU, has co-authored a book on history of education). The President used to be the Vice Chancellor. In 1952-53, it came to have a new constitution for itself and was probably the only Students’ Union in the world to have got a formal registration. Then it came to be known as “Muslim University Students’ Union”. And the VC became “Patron”, rather than the President of the Union.
In 1953-54, for the first time, a girl was elected as a cabinet member of the Union. She was Ms Zahra Naqvi, M.Sc. Physics, final year. Then, even the western countries did not have women franchise.
The weekly debates organized by the Union enhanced the self confidence of the students in an enormous way. From 1888 onwards, Herald Caucus Cambridge Speaking Prize was instituted for the first year students. Then Sir Shah Sulaiman Gold Medal for undergraduate students, afterwards, S.T. Saifuddin sponsored some prizes, named as Imdad Ali Gold Medal for best orator in English, Saifi Fida Husain Medal for best orator in Urdu, and Saifi Burhanuddin Gold Medal for best essay writer in Urdu. [In 1958-59, the Herald Caucus Cambridge Speaking Prize was won by Syed Shahid Mehdi who did his M.A. in History, became IAS Bihar cadre, then served in the UNO and went on to become the VC of JMI, 1999-2004].
In 1960-61, the practices of having the Union Library, Reading Room, and its journal Union Review, all vanished.
The office bearers of the AMUSU have a rare privilege of representing in the Academic Council, and in the AMU Court. Besides, 15 more students are elected to represent in the AMU Court.
Time and again, this vital institution of national reconstruction faces administrative repression, on [often invalid] pretext of disciplining the "misguided" student activism.
*Dr Mohammad Sajjad is a Senior Lecturer at Centre of Advanced Study in History Aligarh Muslim University (India) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org