Their heads wrapped in the vision of a developed India, the articulate women of AMU Women's College, the biggest college for women in this western Uttar Pradesh town, walk the tightrope between tradition and contemporary times.
Their head scarves may announce their identity but many women first-time voters here say they want to elect a government that goes past the veneer to understand the complexity of their lives and bring in a truly secular and inclusive India. Their heads wrapped in the vision of a developed India, the articulate women of AMU Women’s College, the biggest college for women in this western Uttar Pradesh town, walk the tightrope between tradition and contemporary times. Like Dania, a debutant voter, who parks her scooter outside the campus, adjusts her scarf and waits for her other friends.
On the wall, she notices posters of political parties and wonders who she should vote for. “I want to vote for a secular government. It is my first vote. There is a common belief that if you are a Muslim you cannot be secular. I want to vote for change of that perception,” the 18-year-old Geography student said.
Dania is one of the 3,000 students studying in the Aligarh Muslim University Women College who will vote for the first time on April 18 in the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections. Zarrin, 21, who wears a naqab, or a veil across her face, said their attire sometimes traps them in a stereotype and this is what she is fighting against.
“Under the present government, I am scared to step outside Aligarh. I feel I will not be safe outside my community but I want to travel. I want to vote for that secular government which makes me feel safe in my own country,” the English Honours student said. The vote is all important, said Fauzia, a 20-year-old English Honours student who also wears her naqab and got married last week. But she will join her husband in Delhi only on April 19 after she casts her vote here.
“I want to cast my vote and then shift. I want to vote for development. I want to vote to elect a government that does not differentiate against us on the basis of religion or caste,” she said. Her sister, 19-year-old Maliha, another first time voter, said “times are difficult these days” and it is very important that “we vote for change, for a secular government”.
Maliha, who did not elaborate further, said she wants to become a teacher some day and hopes the next government gives them the opportunity to fulfil their dreams. “I keep seeing in the news that there are 20 lakh jobs vacant, I do not understand how these jobs are lying vacant. I hope the next government deals with employment properly,” she said.
Ayushi, a young student of bachelors of Geography, said she wants to vote for development. “I want India to have a reliable standing in the world,” she said. An essay competition to increase awareness among first-time voters was a huge success, said Naima Khatoon Gulrez, principal of the college.
The idea, she said, was to tell them about importance of voting and “how it can play a role in nation building”. “India is a beautiful country and its beauty lies in the pluralistic society that we live in which is the essence of our country. We motivate the girls here to get above caste politics, regional politics communal politics and vote on the agenda of development,” Gulrez said.
The upcoming elections in Aligarh will be fought between incumbent BJP MP Satish Kumar Gautam, Congress candidate Birendra Singh and Mahagathbandan candidate Ajit Baliya. Aligarh has a total of 18,73,993 voters. Khair, Baroli, Atroli , Kol and Aligarh city are assembly seats in the constituency.