Jamia Millia Islamia vice chancellor Najma Akhtar said the Padma Shri award was a recognition of the work done by her to take the university to greater heights in the last one year during which the varsity was given A++ grade by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council.
Akhtar was appointed as the vice chancellor (VC) in April 2019, the same year which saw protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December.
Jamia Millia Islamia had become the epicentre of anti-CAA protests after police barged into the campus and allegedly attacked students studying inside the library on December 15, 2019.
The police had said they entered the campus to look for outsiders involved in violence during the protests, a few metres away from the university.
"It was an unhappy situation across the country. It was not my fault (what happened at that time). I did what was expected from me. Not many others might have done what I did. I had to take care of my students at that time and that is what I did," she told PTI after the award was announced.
Akhtar holds the distinction of being the first woman vice-chancellor of the university, and probably also the first VC of any central university in the country.
Will her tenure pave the way for other women to be appointed in leadership roles?
"It has already started paying way. After several years of independence, no government showed confidence in a woman. It was for the first time that the current government chose a woman. I had to show that they were right and justify my appointment," she added.
Akhtar has been awarded the Padma Shri in the field of Literature and Education. She thanked President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister
Narendra Modi and the government for recognising her work. Talking about the honour, she said the award gives her more encouragement to perform.
"I was not aiming to get it. In the last one year, the university has been achieving great heights. The VC is given the responsibility as well as the blame. I know people are recognising my work. I am obliged that the prime minister and the president are recognising my work. I am extremely grateful. Everyone puts in hard work, but not everyone gets recognition," she said.
Talking about the university's performance in terms of rankings, she said along with her team, she tried her level best to improve the performance of the university.
"I was entrusted with an important responsibility by the government to head Jamia Millia Islamia. I tried my level best with my team to improve the performance of the university and recent achievements like the A++ accreditation by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), improvement in National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) and other international rankings can be seen as a result of that work," she added.
The university has battled three waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and lost its faculty members to the virus. "We did a lot of work during COVID-19 not only in the university, but also for the whole community that is around the university and even for south Delhi," she shared.
The VC said, in a statement, that the award is an important achievement for not only herself, but for every individual associated with the university, especially female students.
"The responsibility has increased now and I will try my level best to keep up to their expectations," she said.
The Jamia Millia Islamia, in a tweet, called Akhtar''s achievement a proud moment for the university.