A day after the MHA revised its lockdown guidelines on Thursday to allow the movement of migrant workers, students, and other stranded persons, a bus with about 20 students left the Aligarh Muslim University campus for Saharanpur. The students expected they would be dropped home but the bus went past the city and reached a quarantine centre in Pilakhni village at about 9:30 pm.
“I was shocked to find only a tin shed at the place. We were told to spend the night there. Five of us were girls,” says a student from the group. He does not wish to be named, as he fears being targeted by university authorities for speaking to the press.
The students made several calls and wrote desperate posts on social media for about five to six hours. It was then that word reached the local MP Fazlur Rahman, who intervened and helped the students reach home.
The police recorded their names and addresses in case the need for tracing arose later. The student, however, is greatly miffed with the university authorities: “It was stupid of them to have sent us without any planning. Could they not have spoken to the District Magistrate earlier? They just issued a notice and told us to leave.”
While those in his group managed to reach their homes in wee hours of the day, a batch of students in Bareilly was able to go home only around noon today, after spending the whole night at a shelter home.
The AMU registrar had on Thursday issued a notice advising students to avail the transport facility being arranged for them. However, the same letter said that the students “are required to avail this facility” as the same may not be available in future. While some students say that they did not face any compulsion, some say they are being pressurized to leave by wardens. “Our provost said that they’ll shut the hostel dining in ten days and then we’ll be left to our own devices,” says a student from Begum Sultan Jahan Hall, a hall of residence at the university.
Shafey Kidwai, AMU public relations officer, said that about 1000 students of UP had been sent to their homes in 39 buses. “If some small problem happened somewhere, it was resolved. We are making our best efforts,” he added. Buses will soon be arranged for remaining 2000-3000 students who are from other states. When asked about allegations of compulsion, he says, “It’s not true. We said if they wish to avail the facility, they can … and everybody who is stranded is going, Kota students are going, our students also better go home.”
Besides the concern of them ending up in squalid quarantine centres instead of homes, there are other concerns too. “What happens if, God forbids, one of the students leaving is corona positive, or contracts virus on the way. A narrative will be built that AMU students are spreading the virus, just as it happened in the case of Tablighi Jamat,” says Salman Imtiyaz, the last elected president of AMU students’ union (2018-19). The students who are leaving are however being screened for corona symptoms and given a symptom-free certificate by a health officer.
Imtiyaz also wrote a letter to the university administration highlighting all these concerns on Thursday. The concerns were ignored, he says, and that is why students had to face problems. “In addition, if somebody’s hometown is a hotspot or containment zone, where will they go? And most crucially, the government is carrying out a witch-hunt against those who participated in anti-CAA protests. The students at home will be even more vulnerable to it.”
Meanwhile, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) registrar on Friday also issued a letter directing students to vacate the hostels and do so with “no exceptions”. One of the reasons it stated was that the hostels were needed for contingent quarantine facilities. A hostel student from Jamia expresses his apprehensions regarding the decision and forced eviction, “I am a Muslim and I am from Jamia. If I get stranded somewhere, the risk to life and limb I face is much higher. And after seeing how AMU students got stranded, I am too scared to leave.”
JMI chief proctor Waseem Ahmed Khan said that the university authorities are in talks with state government officials and figuring out ways by which students can be sent safely to their hometowns. “The university is shut for the next two months. What will the students do here? They must go home.”