Teacher wins burqa battle at university

Eleven days after The Indian Express reported that a 24-year-old teacher of West Bengal's first Muslim university had not been able to hold classes for more than three months because she refused to heed the student union's diktat to wear a burqa, Sirin Middya has won her battle.

The university administration contacted Middya on Monday, asking her to resume duties without a burqa, assuring that she would face no problem. The student union too said the teacher was free to decide what she wore, as long as it was "decent". The general secretary of the West Bengal Students' Union, Hasanur Zaman, added that Middya had gone to the media and "created an issue" where none existed.

While Aliah University that became functional in 2008 does not have any dress code, the student union had told women teachers to come in a burqa. While other women teachers agreed, Middya, who joined in March, had refused to do so.

As a result, since the second week of April, she hasn't been able to go to Aliah University's Calcutta Madrasa campus to teach Bengali. Instead, she reports for work at the library on the university's Salt Lake campus.

While traditional Islamic studies are conducted on the Calcutta Madrasa campus, with the student union commanding considerable clout, the Salt Lake campus is the administrative headquarters of Aliah University.

Following the Express story on July 29 of Middya not receiving help from any quarters despite appeals to Vice-Chancellor Syed Shamshul Alam and of the university putting the issue on the backburner, there had been a public outcry. On August 2, Middya wrote again saying she should be allowed to resume her teaching duties with the new session beginning.

The minister in charge of minority affairs and madrasa education, Abdus Sattar, had intervened on Middya's behalf. "I told the Vice-Chancellor that she must be allowed to teach. We have already given notice that there is no dress code at the university," he says.

On Monday, Deputy Registrar S K Ashfaque Ali, in-charge of the Calcutta Madrasa campus, finally wrote to Middya saying she could teach.

While her stand remains that she is not against the burqa but wearing it should be a personal choice, Middya remains apprehensive about the reception she will receive when she goes back to the campus. "I want the university to ensure security for me so that there is no unpleasant situation."

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