India School Closes in Dispute Over Pro-Rushdie Remarks
AUTHOR Salman Rushdie may be feeling a little bolder these days - he keeps making surprise high-profile appearances and a consortium of publishers has just released a paperback edition of "The Satanic Verses" - but at least one Indian academic feels compelled to stay home.
"I have been told not to enter [my] campus or I would be physically assaulted," says historian Mushirul Hasan.
Professor Hasan teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia, an avowedly open, secular university founded in 1920 at the urging of Mohandas Gandhi. But just outside Jamia's administrative offices Hasan's effigy has been strung up on a light pole, the words "Enemy of Islam" scrawled on the dummy's shirt.
Hasan, who also serves as a Jamia administrator, incensed some students here last month by saying India's ban on "The Satanic Verses" should be lifted. Leaders of the student union demanded that Hasan resign from his administrative post and announced a boycott of examinations. Supporter attacked
Last Wednesday the university's vice chancellor shut down Jamia after a professor supportive of Hasan was attacked, apparently by a group of students.
The turmoil at Jamia is hardly a mass movement - a number of students on campus say they could care less about Hasan's remarks and others only want him to resign so they can take their exams - but it illustrates once again the political salience of religious issues in India. Even so, vice chancellor Bashiruddin Ahmed says he is encouraged that Islamic leaders have so far declined to voice any support for the radical students.
The trouble started two weeks ago when a weekly magazine published an article reporting the views of several Muslim analysts on whether India should rescind its ban. Saying "I think every person has the right to be heard and read," and agreeing that the book offended Muslims, Hasan was the one pundit queried who said the ban should be lifted.
According to Mr. Ahmed, student leaders seized on the issue.
"This is an attempt on the part of elements of the student union leadership to prepare the ground to contest the union elections next year," he says, adding that aspiring politicians in India feel "they must win their spurs in university politics."
Hasan has three times issued letters and statements clarifying his remarks, repeatedly insisting that "The Satanic Verses" is offensive to Muslims and that he does not support Mr. Rushdie. An appeal released on Sunday conveyed Hasan's "sincere and profound regret over my remarks." 'Profound regret'
"I also wish to assure all concerned that it was not my intention to hurt religious sentiments or to demand the lifting of the ban," Hasan wrote. Ahmed says he hopes the appeals will defuse the situation, but students who clustered near Hasan's effigy sound defiant.
"We will stay on hunger strike until his resignation," says Mohammed Yunus, a second-year sociology student. Others, sitting on a raised platform under a colorful awning, are involved in a "relay fast," which means a group of a half-dozen students forsakes food for 12 hours.
The students acknowledge that Indian law protects freedom of expression. "There is a freedom," says Mr. Yunus, "but it is not absolute." Another student asserts that secularism demands a respect for all religions, and does not protect the abuse of a particular religion.
The student union president, Badruddin Qureshi, claims the support of all Jamia's students and many of its faculty. He says that Hasan's remarks are part of a "conspiracy" that will lead to the release of "The Satanic Verses" in India. "Then people creating [interreligious] disturbances will exploit this book," he says.
Another Jamia student says, "Nobody's really interested." He declines to give his name, but says half of Jamia's students agree with him.
"He should resign at once for the sake of normalcy," asserts Satish Kumar Rawat, a senior whose graduation is being delayed by the closure. He agrees that student opinion is divided evenly on Hasan's remarks. "Some think [Hasan] has made a bold step [in saying the ban should be lifted]; some think he has made a blind step."
Jamia's student body also happens to be evenly divided between Muslims and non-Muslims, but Mr. Rawat, a Hindu, says the reaction to Hasan is not split along religious lines.