Minority Status is no stigma

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The onus will be on Jamia’s faculty and administration to make sure that there is no fall in standards

By Roomy Naqvy
Asst Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia

Illustration: Anand Naorem

THE RECENT National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) judgment declaring Jamia Millia Islamia as a minority institution has brought the issue of affirmative action for Muslims into prominent focus. Also at stake are related issues such as the one of reservations on religious lines, lowering of academic standards, shallow minority politics on university campuses and a loss of Central university status. The issue at stake is complex and there are extreme reactions on both sides. I believe the issue is much more nuanced and should be understood in that vein, without the need for a jingoistic reaction or alarmist cries.

The judgment throws up some interesting points. It states that the petitioners, including the now defunct Jamia Students Union, seek directions “to provide religious and secular education to Muslims”. One of the contentious grounds on which the judgment is based refers to the latest affidavit by Jamia Millia Islamia Registrar Professor SM Sajid stating that “Jamia was founded by nationalist leaders like Maulana Mohd Ali Jauhar and Hakim Ajmal Khan for the benefit of the Muslim community.” Former Registrar SM Afzal, the respondent, had opposed the petition.

This point is a bit debatable — whether Jamia Millia Islamia’s founders established the institution purely to impart education to Muslims, a religious minority in India. However, what is pertinent here is Article 30 (1) of the Indian Constitution, which states, “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”

More importantly, the judgment refers to a Supreme Court ruling in the Andhra Pradesh Christian Medical Association vs Government of Andhra Pradesh (1986), and goes on to state that “a minority educational institution continues to be so whether the government declares it as such or not.” The definition of a minority community, whether group or individual, has been clarified by the Supreme Court in the State of Kerala vs Mother Provincial (1970).

There are fears among various quarters that the grant of minority status to an educational institution may lead to loss of State support, including Central university status. This may be unclear at this stage. However, the Supreme Court judgment in the Islamic Academy of Education vs State of Karnataka (2003), quotes the then Chief Justice of India, VN Khare, as saying that minority institutions stand on the same footing as non-minority educational institutions and also that they are protected as minority institutions.

There are fears among some that the grant of minority status may lead to loss of State support

This judgment also states that though members of the minority community may be admitted as students, that must be done solely on the basis of merit “based on a common entrance test conducted by government agencies”. It is, of course, insulting to insinuate that if members of a particular community are admitted to an institution, it would lead to erosion of academic standards.

I understand that the issue is sensitive and it is debatable how much the conferment of minority status would change the situation on the ground in Jamia Millia Islamia, where a large number of students are Muslims. If a petition had not been filed before the NCMEI, Jamia Millia Islamia would have continued as a Central university, imparting modern, secular education, with a majority of Muslim students on its rolls. But after the judgment, not much should change as it would still continue to impart modern secular education to Muslims and non- Muslims. It should also be noted that Jamia was not founded as an Islamic seminary.

As far as the branding of a minority institution is concerned, the onus should lie on the faculty and the university administration to maintain high educational standards as earlier.

roomynaqvy@gmail.com

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