Student activist and research scholar Safoora Zargar says that the Department of Sociology in Jamia Millia Islamia is threatening to cancel her Mphil admission in a “discriminatory” move.
The 29-year-old Muslim activist claims that her application for an extension of Mphil thesis submission has been put on hold for over eight months.
“As if now I don’t know the status of my admission and nothing has been communicated to me,” Zargar told Maktoob.
Responding to the allegations, Dr Manisha Tripathy Pandey, Professor and Head of the Sociology department, said all the due procedures were taken.
Pandey cancelled the call before any further enquiries were made about the status of the admission.
Zargar’s Mphil, which she began in February 2019, looks into “socio-spatial segregation among Muslims in Delhi. A case study of Ghaffar Manzil Colony”.
She works under associate professor Kulwinder Kaur and completed three years in February 2022, with one COVID extension and a normal extension available for all scholars.
In December 2021, Zargar submitted an application for a COVID extension, in which the department only granted two months — till February 2022.
When the department verbally declined to forward her application for a full six-month extension, as per the University Grants Commission notification, she wrote to the registrar, which she believe bothered her supervisor.
In May 2022, UGC declared that universities and higher educational institutions can give another extension of up to six months beyond 30 June for MPhil or PhD thesis submission on a case-to-case basis after reviewing a student’s work. This was the fifth COVID extension granted to research scholars.
The first extension was granted in June 2020 and extended further every six months due to prevailing the COVID-19 situation.
According to Zargar, the department officials told her that she was not eligible for any more COVID extensions, as she once took an extension.
“It defeats the entire purpose of the relief given by UGC. COVID have been here for two years and that is why there were consecutive extensions,” points out Zargar.
Maktoob spoke to several research scholars at the University who admitted that they are given COVID and other extensions without any consequences.
After pressure from the department, Zargar was “compelled” to apply for a one-year extension available for women scholars in April 2022.
“They told me not to be adamant about COVID extension and forced me to apply for the extension for women scholars,” she said.
Zargar was asked to submit the draft of her thesis to which she never got any feedback until the Research Advisory Committee was called to review her work. At the RAC, the supervisor argued that her fieldwork is not sufficient and they will not recommend her an extension.
Safoora says the observation is contradictory to an email from her supervisor in November 2021, which says positively about her fieldwork and chapterization.
“I have no information if any further steps are taken. It is causing me lots of anxiety,” says Zargar. “My rights were violated at the time when my COVID extension was denied”.
It is completely an arbitrary decision and I have the right to be heard at least,” she added.
Verbal abuse, discrimination
Zargar described her experience as “traumatic” and claims that she has faced lots of verbal abuse from the department in the last two years.
“They have told me that because of students like me, the Department of Sociology is blacklisted,” Zargar said.
“They have called me a Dengai [rioter] but in official records, they say I have not shown any progress.”
Zargar feels that she has been singled out for her political activism which has drawn lots of attention.
She was jailed under UAPA charges in April 2020 in the 2020 Delhi pogrom conspiracy case and was released under humanitarian bail due to her pregnancy and ongoing pandemic.
Human rights bodies and civil groups condemned the arrest and rallied for her release. She was one of the frontline protesters against India’s anti-Muslim citizenship law.
After coming out of jail and amidst her pregnancy, the department asked Zargar to take maternity leave but she declined and when on with her research.
According to Zargar, she was humiliated at the RAC for not taking maternity leave.
“They told me not to be ashamed of being pregnant. This was a replica of what was happening on national media about my pregnancy and I raised an objection against it”.
She thinks it may have started the fallout.
“If they want me to improve my work, they are supposed to let me take the extension available to me to work on my thesis. Why are they racing to cancel by admission?” questions Zargar.
“I have tried my best to cope with the expectations of my supervisor. If she wants to discontinue, there are other ways to deal with it,” she states. “They are not looking at any alternative ways in which I can be retained”.
“All the push has been to cancel by application,” Zargar says emotionally. “RAC is just a formality here. No one speaks against the supervisor in Indian academia”.
Zargar has written to the Vice Chancellor of the University asking for redressal for her grievance.
“If they can do this to an out-spoken person like me and get away with it, it exposes the larger issue of student-supervisor abuses in researcher’s circles,” she added.