Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Muslim female students in Kerala’s Maharaja’s College call out professor for Islamophobia, political bias

Students at Maharaja’s College in Kerala’s Ernakulam district raised serious allegations, including Islamophobia, prejudices based on political affiliation, body shaming, and receiving threatening phone calls from their professor.

On January 17, 2024, final-year undergraduate students from the Arabic Department of the college came forward against their faculty, Assistant Professor in the Research Department of Arabic, and staff advisor in charge of the college union, Dr. Nizammudin K M. The students decided to speak out against the months-long alleged injustice they had faced from Nizammudin after he threatened two female students on the phone on the night of January 15, following their criticism of his bias on the college WhatsApp group.

Fathimath Sumayya, one of the complainants at the forefront and a student of Nizammudin who was threatened by him on the phone, told Maktoob that they have been facing discrimination from him since the second year of the course. She added that Nizammudin called her a Communalist, Islamist, and Liar on various occasions in the 5th semester. Sumayya informed the reporter that she and her classmates feel Nizammudin is biased against students who are not part of the Students Federation of India (SFI). Nizammudin is also a member of the Association of Kerala Government College Teachers (AKGCT), the government teachers’ organization associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Sumayya, currently not affiliated with any student or political organization, shared her ordeal with Maktoob, stating, “During the fifth semester, Nizammudin assigned me the duty of marking attendance for my classmates. One day, I politely asked him for the reasons behind telling my classmates that they wouldn’t receive attendance for leaving in the last 15 minutes of the class period, seeking permission to join a campaign organized by the students’ organization Fraternity Movement. This was despite him granting attendance to classmates leaving for SFI-led union programs. In a fit of rage, he repeatedly called me a liar, denied giving me the attendance responsibility, and angrily questioned me for criticizing his political bias. The argument concluded with him labeling me a communalist. After that incident, I maintained distance from him and refrained from interacting as I used to.”

Sumayya added, “During an internal exam, he unnecessarily called me an Islamist and said a lot of hijab-clad Islamists come.” Afiya Muhammad, another complainant and the student who was threatened on the phone by Nizammudin, testified to the reporter that she heard Nizammudin calling Sumayya an Islamist. Afiya told the reporter that Nizammudin’s statements are Islamophobic.

When asked about the background of the threatening call, Afiya told the reporter that a classmate named Bilal, associated with the Fraternity Movement, was allegedly attacked on January 15 by SFI members in the department in front of teachers. Classmates of Bilal criticized Nizammudin on the WhatsApp group for his leniency towards SFI in the incident and their perceived silence and inaction. Students allege that Nizammudin tried to divert the discussion by sharing a circular with the group, informing them about the holiday due to Narendra Modi’s visit to Ernakulam on the 16th. Students who felt mocked criticized the action. Outraged by the criticism, Nizammudin made calls to Sumayya and Afiya, threatening them.

The reporter obtained access to the audio records of the threatening call made by Nizammudin to Sumayya and Afiya. In the call to Sumayya, Nizammudin threatened to suspend her for three months and file a police complaint against her. He mockingly asked if he should seek police protection, questioning whether she would attack or kill him with “her party, the Popular Front of India (PFI).” He also threatened and instructed her to behave properly.

Sumayya, who didn’t even know what Popular Front was, realized that Nizammudin was associating her with a banned Muslim organization, perceived as a terrorist organization, only after her classmate informed her. Sumayya told the reporter, “I am not part of any political organization, and still, I don’t know why I was tagged with Popular Front and labeled as Islamist. I also don’t know why I was called a communalist.”

During the call to Afiya, Nizammudin spoke rudely, instructing her not to address him as sir. Afiya expressed the desire for Nizammudin to be unbiased when Bilal was attacked. He responded that his duty is not to resolve student fights. Threateningly, he told Afiya that only Bilal was suspended, and he would file a complaint against her, defaming her on social media. He boasted about knowing how to handle students. Despite Afiya informing him she was busy with her baby and uninterested in talking, he raised his tone, making further threats.

Afiya told Maktoob, “Since we value morals, we decided to address his indecent behavior towards students. I informed our Head of the Department and a female teacher named Shameeda multiple times about Nizammudin’s actions, including attempting to physically harm male students, body shaming female students, and sending inappropriate late-night messages to female students. However, the teachers dissuaded us from filing complaints by suggesting that divine punishment would suffice. Nizammudin wields significant influence in the college, and we even sensed the helplessness of the head of the department. He advised us to complain only if we were courageous enough, cautioning that Nizammudin might retaliate. Even the female postgraduate students have grievances against him, but everyone is afraid of him.” Afiya also added that Nizammudin, who was suspended from his former college for indecent behavior towards women, served as their mentor in the second year but was replaced after they objected to this.

Fathima Nasrin, a student of Nizammudin, informed Maktoob that she also experienced indecent behavior from him. Fathima added, “Not only have I, but several students have been subjected to his uncomfortable comments. He unnecessarily asked questions about our dress, such as why we are wearing coats, and has also body-shamed us.”

Sumayya added, “Our complaint against him should not be misread as one given by any political party. The complainants include everyone, including SFI Arabic department convener Nasrin AM. We have been verbally giving complaints to our teachers for months, but no action has been taken. Even the department head has told us there is no point in complaining against him and cautioned us to make sure that filing a complaint doesn’t backfire on us as he has so much power in the college.”

Nasrin AM told Maktoob, “About 3-4 months ago, I was beaten on my shoulder while lying on the desk due to a severe headache. He also mocked me after beating me. I complained to the department head and other teachers, but I was discouraged. I even mentioned that I wouldn’t sit in class if Nizammudin was there. However, I was pacified and advised to adjust, as only a few months remained for the completion of the course.” Nasrin said that this time, they were fed up with him after the threatening calls and decided to formally complain.

In a year-old video recorded by a student discreetly, Nizammudin, who is also disabled, can be seen shouting at a student, Ali Fahemi, and charging at him in an attempt to beat him. Ali told Maktoob, “The language used by him against students is bad, as you can see in the video where he called me a nasty person in front of my classmates. He also attempted to beat our classmate, Misabh, who is associated with the Muslim Students Federation (MSF). He is also interfering with our personal affairs and engaging in moral policing.”

When the reporter contacted Nizammudin, he was travelling on a train to reach the studio for a news debate. Despite being assured to call back and calls made by the reporter, Nizammudin didn’t answer.

Head of the Department, Dr. Abdul Latheef told Maktoob, “Students had complained earlier, but we were never aware of the gravity of the grievances”. Latheef agreed and told the reporter that there were attempts to solve things internally for the smooth functioning of the department between students and teachers.

On January 17, students submitted their complaint to the vice principal in charge, Dr Suja T.V.

The Principal of the college, Dr VS Joy told Maktoob that he got instructions from the government not to speak anything more on issues happening at the college.

Maharaja’s college student’s union chairman and SFI leader, Thameem told Maktoob. “So far we have not received any complaint regarding the matter from the students. Let an investigation take place and if the professor is found guilty, we will demand the college to take action against him and no one will protect him. Let truth triumph and that is the position of union.”

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