Since India’s independence in 1947, the continuance of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) as an institution of higher education for the Muslims of India has faced a question mark. In the continuing onslaught of reactionary forces on the welfare of minority Muslims in India, AMU often becomes a pawn in the hands of self-serving politicians.
The legitimacy of the university as an institution where Indian Muslim youth have a right to better themselves in higher education and then go on to improve their community and their nation is frequently questioned.
This despite the fact that Article 30 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the minority Muslims the right to build and autonomously manage educational institutions for their community’s welfare. Soon after independence, efforts were made to extinguish the Muslim character of AMU and reduce the enrollment of Muslim students there. This happened soon after Osmania University’s Muslim character was snuffed out in the aftermath of the fall of Nizam’s rule in the erstwhile Hyderabad state.
In a hostile reaction to the last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan’s brief effort to keep Hyderabad an independent state, the preferential admission of Muslim students at Osmania University, which was built entirely from grants by the Nizam and wealthy Muslims, was abolished.
Suddenly Muslim students from lower middleclass backgrounds in Hyderabad who did not have the means to acquire good high school education and compete with Hindus, found the doors to meaningful careers closed to them.
The success of the reactionary forces at Osmania University emboldened them to launch the same campaign against AMU in 1948.
Fortunately, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, with their high stature in the Indian government, were successful in thwarting that attempt and AMU continued to serve the Muslim community. After Nehru’s departure, during the tenure of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister, the same reactionary forces colluded again and mounted another campaign to take away the Muslim character of AMU.
Fortunately, Gandhi who was herself under severe attack at that time (1981) from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other reactionary Hindutva forces, had enough clout in the Indian Parliament to pass legislation to help AMU retain its Muslim character. But the reactionary forces have kept up their assaults on AMU. Recently, a judge of the Uttar Pradesh High Court declared that the above mentioned 1981 legislation of the Indian Parliament is not valid and AMU is not a university of the minority Muslim community. Hence it cannot avail Article 30 of the Constitution to reserve seats for Muslim students. This is a travesty of justice and common sense. AMU began as the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College, established in 1876 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Most of the land on which the college was built was donated by wealthy Muslims. The buildings of the college were built from donations that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan collected mostly from a large number of Muslims, although a few of Sir Syed’s Hindu friends also donated money.
Over the decades, AMU continued to expand its buildings, facilities, campus and faculty by collecting donations mostly from Muslims. The transformation of the college into a university in 1920 was the result of a tremendous collective effort of the entire Muslim community in India.
Not only AMU was established and developed with the clear objective of imparting modern education to the Muslims of India, for over a century, the Muslim community has continued to nurture AMU with its blood, sweat, tears and hopes, so that Muslims have an institution of higher education of their own.
Indeed in the pre-1947 era, AMU was a quality university at par with India’s better universities. Muslim boys and girls from Khyber Pass to Assam; from Kashmir to Kerala, and many Asian and African countries flocked to AMU to acquire higher education, and then to lend their hand in nation building. A large number of AMU alumni lived up to its motto by becoming illustrious leaders and visionaries in their respective provinces and countries.
However, after 1947, AMU became suspect in the eyes of the power structure of India and faced all kinds of harassment. Whenever there was any Hindu-Muslim riot anywhere in the country, the media circulated wild and false stories alleging that the AMU students were involved in them and the police authorities visited the AMU campus in search of suspected miscreants.
In 1990, as insurgency flared up in Kashmir due to the wrong policies of the government, AMU campus was suspected of harboring the insurgents and searches were conducted.
In the aftermath of 9/11/2001, media again circulated false rumors that AMU had become the den of Muslim terrorists associated with Al Qaeda and police raids were conducted on the campus.
The fact remains that AMU is a modern and secular university like any other university in India, albeit with a distinct Muslim ethos.
A significant number of non-Muslims, atheists and Communists at AMU have always thrived, both in the faculty and the student body, balancing out its dominant Muslim image.
Such constant targeting, suspicion and politicization of AMU caused much demoralizing at AMU resulting in a lowering of the standard of education.
Added to that has been the strange ultra-mainstream attitude of some elitist Muslims in India who have displayed indifference toward AMU.
However, in the last decade, the AMU management and the Muslim community have taken several steps to eliminate rot, improve the standard of instruction and modernize the system of education.
The result is that today again the graduates of AMU have begun competing with graduates of other universities in employment and academic opportunities. Yet due to the poor standard of education in the high schools of the Muslim community in north India – AMU’s hinterland – Muslim youth do not compete well with others for admission in Indian universities.
That forced AMU management to adopt an admission system that provided reservation for students from AMU’s high school – mostly Muslims – for admission to the university. That allowed a little over half of the enrollment in professional colleges to be filled by Muslim students while the remainder went mostly to Hindus.
This admission system being inefficient and restrictive, the university management recently set up a new admission system in which half of all seats in the professional colleges (engineering, medicine, applied sciences and business management) will be reserved for Muslims who will be selected by a competitive examination among Muslim students from all parts of India. That is a fair setup in a university that has been built from the scratch over 130 years with land and funds provided by the Muslims, and continuous contribution and dedication of many generations of India’s Muslim community.
If this Affirmative Action program at AMU for India’s impoverished Muslim community is removed, the proportion of Muslim students in these courses will plummet to about 10 percent from the about 55 percent now. That will cause a dangerous increase in frustration and despair of the already beleaguered Muslim community, with very harmful effect not only on the Muslims but the entire country.
One unparalleled benefit of AMU to the Muslims of India and thereby to the nation has been its proven ability to produce over the years a large number of Muslim doctors, engineers, scientists, academics, managers, administrators who came mostly from humble lower middleclass backgrounds.
A large number of them went on to much achievement in their respective fields.
Under conditions of near-siege and very difficult circumstances for the Muslim community since 1947, AMU greatly helped the impoverished and demoralized Indian Muslim community maint
ain its respectable presence and dignity in all sectors of India’s society, economy and industry.
Indeed AMU gave a rare opportunity to a large number of Muslim youth, who did not have any opportunity in a biased society, to become somebody and support their families and their community.
But for this facility at AMU the Muslims of India would have been in worse shape than they are today, and the waves of their despair would have impacted the ramparts of the nation’s well being.
The question also remains if a resurgent Indian nation, which is steadily modernizing and strengthening as a world-class power can afford to shut out the minority Muslims – fully 15 percent of its population – from dignified presence in all portals of society. And will that void not create much harmful turmoil in the country?
Today the Indian nation has to also look at the solemn pledge that it gave to its minority citizens vis-�-vis Article 30 of the Constitution that allows them to build and autonomously manage their educational institutions. Is it in the interests of the nation that every few years a storm is raised throughout the country about AMU’s status as a minority university, and the future of the Muslim youth in India to obtain higher education is threatened?
Looking at the big picture it behooves all especially India’s Muslims and secular Hindus and Christians to come together and lobby the government and the Parliament in New Delhi to pass an unambiguous legislation. It should remove for ever all doubts, and unequivocally reaffirm the Muslim character of AMU, and allow it autonomous management including reservation of half of all enrollment for Muslim students from across India.
The strong network of AMU old boys and their organizations, and other organizations of Indian Muslims, should pool their resources to become an effective vehicle for such lobbying.
(The writer is President of the Association of Indian Muslims of America, Washington, D.C. He can be reached on [email protected])