I studied and finished my PhD from Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia. It is one of the only institutions in India, which offers a direct PhD post-Master's. Jamia is often seen as a poor cousin of classy Delhi University and the intellectuals of JNU! Often those who cannot get through both these places, as a last option against giving up studies, take admission here.
Presently, it is my third year of teaching here. I taught students as a PhD scholar and now teaching as a Guest Faculty (permanent posts are hard to get in these times)! I have taught (as Visiting Faculty in other instituions) and worked (as Researcher) at other places, but its something about Jamia students that I can stay jobless for three months (during summer holidays) and wait, to continue teaching here. The students at Jamia come from diverse backgrounds. Some come from private schools at under-Graduate level and at post-Graduate level from DU colleges. Those are the English speaking ones. Others can come from government schools or Madarsas. Both Hindi and Urdu mediums co-exist with English here. Often we also have international students from Iran, CIS countries, Japan, Nigeria, Ghana, etc. I find it very fascinating that Jamia has this open arms' attitude and a special empathy for students' coming from interiors of Bihar/ UP, etc. (similar to JNU ethos). Although, it started as a minority institution for Muslims, but there are as many students' from other communities as well.
Students' are also probably the most obedient that I have seen (in comparison to other places that I have taught, do not have to be reminded not to use mobile phones in class). The old world Ustad-Shagird camaraderie may not be there in true sense, but still something close to that respect can still be witnessed. As teachers it can be a challenge to teach this diverse mix of Eng-Hindi-Urdu students. It is not just the language backgrounds, that corresponds with class and often regions (Delhi/non-Delhi, rural/urban), that they may come from. One has to reach a common platform where you have to simplify your teaching enough to make the students' understand who have had different backgrounds (Sports quota included) but also interesting enough for those who may have studied it before. This is especially true for the cases where Sociology is taught as a Subsidiary paper for Tourism/Management/Psychology/Hindi/Urdu/Islamic Studies/Geography/History, etc. Number of students here often can go up to 50 plus. It is much more easy to teach students' from one's own department because they know the basics. But, it is in teaching the Subsidiary Paper students' and BA (pass) students' that I have had most interesting experiences.
I taught a Subsidiary Paper on Gender and Society last year and was discussing the pay differentials for both men & women, and the aspect of unpaid domestic work. One of the Management student got up to say, but women do get "gifts". I asked him, men only work five days, 9-5, get holidays for weekends/ festivals, etc. but at the end of month get a "shirt" as gift from employer, shouldn't it be sufficient for them!
Often with those coming from Madarsa background, the debates in class can go to Theology! I had a Madrassa student, (Hafiz too), who asked questions in every class, every topic was problematic. Only difference, when I finished my semester, he was asking questions about French Revolution and Engels, and not about religion!
Girls' are often more studious and most vocal when they have to reply to questions. But, it is often the boys who raise serious questions about theology. I cannot remember a single instance where any girl student asked any question related to religion. It can also get confusing to recognise girl students' behind full face veils/ abayas.
This semester, in my second class only a student from Mewat made a presentation on "Saudi as an ideal society". Now, challenge as a teacher is not just to complete given syllabus within the three months of semester, but also to slowly make him understand and introduce him to concepts like democracy, cultural pluralism, etc.
Often students' come to discuss personal problems. One of my very sincere student, came one day and almost in tears, said, she was finding it difficult to continue studies. On further probing, she said, both her parents are blind. She has to take care of household chores, look after younger brother's college studies, etc. She travels on the most crowded buses where sexual harassment is rampant, often wallets, mobile phones get stolen. Recently, she lost her wallet in which she was carrying money for father's medicines. On my part, I could offer her some random work and pay her an amount, offered to drop her back, but that cannot be a solution. There are many more like her coming from difficult circumstances for whom just commuting everyday for hours in crowded buses is a challenge. Their courage and determination to get themselves educated is admirable, and students like these are not just restricted to Jamia, but can be found all across the country.