Minority Institutions-Rights or Privilege
Minority Institutions-Rights or Privilege
The Case of the Aligarh Muslim University, 2005

Alas, Your Lordships!

Aligarh Muslim University has been frequently in the news this year. In May, with the consent of the Union Ministry for Human Resources Development, the university announced a new admission policy for its main professional courses (engineering, medicine etc.) whereby only 25 per cent of the total seats were to be left open to merit alone. Fifty per cent of the seats were to be reserved for ‘Muslims of India’, including those already studying at the graduate level within AMU. The controversial policy meant that henceforth students on the campus would be divided into two classes of citizens: Muslims and others. For SCs and STs there would be very little space on the AMU campus.

The policy met with stiff resistance from certain quarters within the campus and outside, opposition coming both from the Left parties and the BJP. In the controversy that unfolded, the issue as to whether AMU, an institution created through an Act of Parliament, could still claim minority status and protests against the new reservation policy became intertwined. Some challenged the new policy in the Allahabad High Court which gave its judgement in October effectively holding that AMU could not claim the status of a minority institution. The high court’s verdict has been acclaimed by the Left and the BJP as a validation of their position. But it has generated a lot of discontent among Muslims and others who firmly believe that the 1981 amendment to the Aligarh Muslim University Act, 1920 by Parliament had decisively affirmed the status of AMU as a minority institution.

Through our cover story this month, advocate Mihir Desai makes a signal contribution to the currently raging debate. He argues that since the birth of the Indian republic, the criteria adopted by the apex court in determining the minority character, or otherwise, of an institution has been deeply flawed. He makes a strong case that the dictates of democracy in general as also the letter and the spirit of our Constitution demand that the criteria of determining the minority status of an institution should be whether it is being run for the benefit of the minority (religious or linguistic) and not whether it is established and administered by a minority. While Desai’s argument unambiguously affirms the minority character of AMU, its new reservation policy still remains contentious.

An opinion piece in the context of the Delhi bomb blasts targeting men, women and children out shopping for Diwali and Id highlights the fact that the continuing massacre of innocents in India or elsewhere in the name of Islam agitates Muslim minds no less than people from other communities. The article draws attention to the anomaly that while on several occasions in recent years, in the immediate aftermath of any terrorist attack especially in any part of India, Urdu papers are full of strong and unambiguous condemnation of the killing of innocents as "inhuman" and "un-Islamic", there is little reflection of this is the non-Urdu media. This gap in communication is not only unfortunate but also dangerous, as it can only widen the "us" vs "them" divide.

In this and related contexts it would help if the media were more alive to its social responsibility. But as revealed in the report of a fact-finding team that visited Mau, a communally sensitive town in eastern UP which flared up in mid-October, rather than help douse the flames, sections of the mass media were in fact adding fuel to fire. The eruption in Mau is merely symptomatic of the fact that much of eastern UP is sitting on a communal volcano, says the report, and points to the incendiary campaign of Gorakhpur’s Yogi Adityanath, who has been working hard in the last few years to out-Hindu the BJP and emerge as the saffron messiah of the region. The mainstream media, television included, blamed the outbreak of violence on local MLA Mukhtar Ansari, who has a previous criminal record, without sufficient proof. While focusing on the role of ‘Yogi’s’ followers in triggering the violence, the fact-finding team uncovers the fact that as Mau burned, instead of unbiased reporting the mass media was busy myth-making.

We are happy to inform our readers that with the current issue of CC, we are introducing a Guest Column. We thank the two contributors for this issue, Rahul Bose and Rajdeep Sardesai.

Archived from Communalism Combat, November 2005 Year 12    No.112- Editorial