Girls' Common Room Struggle

Jamila (Salahuddin) Rahman(C70)

When the first girl student, Asfia Aleem entered the all boys NED Engineering College in 1964, she was not only faced with the challenge of walking on the boys turf but was scowl upon and went through a difficult period of making them understand that she is is there to stay and study. She had every intention to succeed and prove that girls are if not smarter but smart enough to carry study and practice engineering.

Pakistan is a new nation and girls want to play their part in building it shoulder to shoulder with men.

Beside all the various challenges she had no place to sit between classes, do homework or even had restroom facilities. NED library boast of two tables which were always crowded with boys. The boys common room was dark and dreary place where there was no chance of sitting down. Being a smart individual she decided to sit on the area behind the classrooms which had few cement benches. This area was serviced by crowd of unfriendly crows pelting students with their spits every chance they got. She started using this spot with bit of head coverings. She knew she was considered as an experimental admission so she cannot effort to fail. Due to all these negative reasons she did not demand the basic necessaries. She would quietly walk to adjacent DJ Science College to use their both restroom facilities.

This continued all her first academic year until 1965 when the then far sighted principal R.E. Mirza created five admission seats for girls every year. In 1965 three more girls entered NED, now the need of common room was greatly needed. The boys had a small common room but whenever the girls entered the boys felt uncomfortable and the girls felt unwanted.

Mr Mirza delegated a small area on the top floor which was big enough for a couch for the girls to relax. Naheed Ghanzhar mentioned this in one of her article. Still the girls lack restroom facilities.

Next year 1966 is the year when six girls got admitted. Now there were ten girls which was a sizable number. The all boys college could now see these girls in their colorful dresses all over the campus, walking, chatting, going from class to class but no facility was provided to them. The small common area was shortly converted into an office for one of the lecturer as girls found it inconvenient and small. By this time girls champion Mr R E Mirza had retired as principal and no one wanted to make life a bit easy for the girl students.

When I joined NED there was no place for girls to sit between classes or restrooms. I was in the third batch of girls and all of us use to go to either British Council or D J Science College to use their restrooms. Sitting between classes was a problem. Either you stand somewhere with a group of boys and chat or you sit on the benches at the back with crows flying and providing surprise. Many a times we had to clean each other hair. Due to this that area was duped as 'lover's lane'. This provided a lot of mirth to the students. Only the brave girls used to sit there others just cling to some wall and wait for next class.

In 1967, three more girls got admitted, now there were sizable number of girls. The girls started demanding for common room with bathroom. The then acting principal Mr Soomro was not sympathetic to the girls and made clear that when the girls decided to come to all boys college they should have considered these things prior. After few intensive meetings it was decided that the unused shed will be fitted with a basic bathroom and provided with a table and a couch to seat at the most five people will be provided. The floor was dirt and unpaved. The college did not want to invest in anything as the new campus was being plan adjacent to Karachi University. Big preparations were underway and old campus was to move there within few years.

Until I graduated in 1970 we all used that area and the number of girls had increased to twenty. The plans for new campus were up in the air although some construction had started on the new site.

Looking back now we can laugh but initially the atmosphere at NED was anti females. Only some of the staff was helpful while few were openly expressive and wanted us gone. Ms Mirza was a gentle and nice woman who quietly became our in charge by circumstance. I have lots of regard for her. She was there whenever we needed her. If I remember correctly we were the second group of girls to go on railroad trip of Pakistan and she helped us achieve it.

Looking at the present day photo provided by Dr Muzzaffer of NED the girls are ruling there. What a huge change for the better, in a society like Pakistan where honor killing is still way of life.

Asfia Aleem told me recently that she is very actively involved in women rights in Karachi. It made me feel good that in a way we the old NEDians are working to improve the thinking of general public. I have written on the First Lady engineering of Pakistan and sent it for review to her last week. So very soon we will add that too on the web. Slowly slowly we will achieve our objective inshallah with the help of friends and collegues like Dr Muzzaffer and several others willing to share.

With the growth of female population the new campus has provided the present day girls with a huge beautiful common room. Mrs Fauzia Muzzaffar had the honor of inaugurating it a few years back. Dr Muzzaffar described in an email how the girls ended up with the huge room which is in front of Principal's office. It was originally built to be the boys' common room, but during the staff meetings objections were made that it will create lots of chaos if any strikes occur. It was first decided to make it a mosque but again controversy started and ultimately the girls got their common room.

This 2015 picture shows an overwhelming majority of girls among the students at NED UET. Dr Muzaffar Mahmood, wearing glasses, at front left.