Student politics

Objections to JNU's Shehla Rashid prompt Aligarh Muslim University students to postpone event

Some students were offended by a January 9 Facebook post on hate-speech and accused her of blasphemy against the Prophet

Aligarh Muslim University students, who stood by their counterparts in Jawaharlal Nehru University through many crises over the past year, on Thursday slammed their door shut on former JNU students’ union vice-president, Shehla Rashid Shora. Not only did the Aligarh university’s students’ union cancel a meeting of student leaders planned for Saturday that Shora and five others from JNU were slated to attend, it even filed a police complaint against her.

The reason it stated: Shora allegedly made objectionable remarks against Prophet Mohammad in a Facebook post. On January 9, she allegedly wrote “insulting things” about other religions too, the Aligharh students union said. Her post had “disturbed students” and could potentially “spoil [the campus] atmosphere”. On social media, other Aligarh students accused her of blasphemy.

Hate speech and religion

Shora’s post was on hate speech. The paragraph to which some AMU students took strong exception dealt with hate speech and insulting statements about religious figures. Some also took offence with an article she wrote in 2013 arguing that Prophet Mohammad was a feminist.

Students protest

The controversy boiled up over February 14 and 15, when Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union president, Faizul Hasan announced on his Facebook page that the union was organising an “all India students’ leader meet” at the university and had signed on over a dozen leaders, six from JNU alone, to speak. The others invited from JNU were student leaders Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, current president Mohit Kumar Pandey and another former president, Akbar Chaudhary.

A handbill featuring student leaders from Delhi and Allahabad Image Credit: Facebook/Faizul Hasan
A handbill featuring student leaders from Delhi and Allahabad Image Credit: Facebook/Faizul Hasan

The reactions poured in soon after with Facebook users posting sections from Shora’s post. One called her “shaitaan” – devil – and another wrote, “I would slap her if she will say anything about religion.” A student group called the Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Front issued a handbill declaring her a “Gustaakh-e-Rasool” – “One who says something wrong about the Prophet,” explained Ghazala Ahmad of the students’ union. They described Shora’s post as “blasphemous.”

AMU Students' Front issued a handbill Image credit: Facebook
AMU Students' Front issued a handbill Image credit: Facebook

‘Hurt Sentiments’

Shora was furious. She alleged on Facebook that “a very jealous person [was] trying to instigate students of AMU against [her]”. She also pointed out that fuss over her alleged blasphemy would draw attention away from the issue she had wanted to discuss – the disappearance of JNU student, Najeeb Ahmed, from campus in October, after a scuffle with members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

“I will not defend myself, because anyone who is acting outraged has either not read the article, or is trying divert the issue from Najeeb,” she wrote. “I refuse to allow myself to be targeted for giving scholarly opinion on hate speech.” She was still going to Aligarh, she wrote.

But on Friday, she issued a statement announcing she had cancelled her visit because she feared, given the conditions on the Aligarh campus, that her presence “might create an unnecessary media spectacle and…divert the issue from Najeeb Ahmed’s disappearance”.

Khalid wrote a post in Shora’s support saying:

‘Hurt sentiments’ are largely used by the dominant majority to silence and even kill the minority communities and it thrives on lies and rumour mongering....But what this case reveals is that some forces even within the persecuted minority deploy such tactics, when they see the possibilities of democratisation within. 

Leaders’ meet postponed

On Friday, the Aligarh students’ union decided to postpone the programme.

Notice announcing postponement of the leaders' meet Image credit: Facebook/ Faizul Hasan
Notice announcing postponement of the leaders' meet Image credit: Facebook/ Faizul Hasan

Aligarh student leader Hasan’s note accompanying the image of the handbill online left no doubt about what those “unavoidable circumstances” were. He wrote: “Our executive decision is for alma matter and our religion. We the student’ Union is for whole AMU and its interest, we will boycott who blame on our religion and our beloved Prophet.”

This decision also drew criticsm. One student argued that they could have just left Shora out instead of cancelling the entire event. Another wrote that her Facebook post “does not amount to blasphemy or a hate speech against Islam or Muslims.” He suggested that the union “seek the support of Marxists, Ambedkarites etc. so that common problems of…marginalised sections of India are resolved conveniently”.

A copy of the police complaint filed against Shora.
A copy of the police complaint filed against Shora.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.