Some of India’s most famous islands of academic excellence are minority institutions. St Stephen’s, Delhi; St Xavier’s Mumbai and Kolkata; Loyola College, and Madras Christian College, Chennai; St Joseph’s, Bengalaru; Christ College, Pune; St Francis College for Women, Hyderabad — just to name a few — are secretly sought after even by those who oppose them publicly for political reasons.
Even Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), though considerably diminished thanks to years of political interference, still has one of the best medical colleges, and history departments in the country.
But, the RSS, of course, can’t stand anything with a minority tag; and minority educational institutions have been one of its favourite targets. In its latest assault, it has deployed its education wing, Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal, (BSM), to launch a noisy campaign against the present criteria for granting minority status to an institution alleging that it is being "misused".
So, the Supreme Court may soon have BSM storm-troopers knocking at its doors seeking nothing short of a wholesale redefinition of a minority institution. And this after the issue was thought to have been finally laid to rest following the Supreme Court’s two important rulings — in 1992 and 2002 — setting out a comprehensive governance regime for minority institutions.
The RSS gripe this time (yes, we have been here before) is that these institutions don't have enough students from the particular community which runs them; and, therefore, to give them the “privileges” of a minority institution is wrong. It wants an institution’s minority status to be determined on the basis of how many minority-community students it has on its rolls.
This is what the BSM Organizing Secretary Mukul Kantikar said: “The purpose of giving privileges to minority institutions was to help the students belonging to minorities. It is not served because many of the minority institutions have more general students than the minorities. But there are many minority institutions whose management comprises minorities but among students the number from majority community is more. Despite that, they neither implement RTE nor government’s public welfare policies. Such misuse has happened.” (Indian Express, July 9.)
And his solution?
“So, the definition of minority status should be reviewed for which there should either be a Supreme Court intervention or a constitutional amendment. We want to explore both the possibilities.”
The trouble is that Mr Kantikar has got his facts all wrong. Either, he is genuinely ignorant and, if so, it doesn't exactly reflect well on RSS credibility; or he is deliberately twisting well-established facts in other to mislead.
And here, Mr Kantikar, are the facts: the reason why state-aided minority institutions don’t boast of a majority of minority community students is because they are NOT allowed to under the rules. They are barred from admitting more than 50 per cent of students from their own community in order to protect the interests of non-minority students, and to promote national integration.
They have been demanding unfettered freedom to admit as many of their own community's students as they wish but have failed to win the argument. Delhi's St Stephen's College fought a long legal battle but was told off by the Supreme Court which ruled that the minority students quota should not exceed 50 per cent. The remaining 50 per cent was to be filled by general category students—that is, non-minority students.
In 2002, the Supreme Court opined against a rigid percentage and stated that “an aided minority educational institution… would be required to admit a reasonable extent of non-minority students."
It left it to the state governments to decide on the numbers depending upon the types of institutions, the courses of education for which admission is being sought, the educational needs of the minorities and similar factors.
“The low percentage of minority students in minority institutions is handiwork of judiciary and government. On top of the Supreme Court ruling in St Stephen's College case that no minority institution can admit more than 50 per cent of minority students, the government insists on imposing its SC/ST reservation policy (22.5 per cent) on minority institutions too. Added up, this means 72.5 per cent of the seats are automatically beyond the reach of minority students. So where is the scope for a higher minority intake in minority institutions?” asks Dr Tahir Mahmood, ex-chairman of the National Minorities Commission, and member Law Commission of India.
Coming back to the RSS demand, it seems to have got the very concept of a minority institution wrong. It has never been about numerical strength of minority community students in a college.
Granting minority status is about acknowledging that an institution was established by a particular community and is managed by it. And to bring in the issue of numbers is to completely misunderstand the logic behind it.
Article 30 of the Constitution explicitly recognises the right of minorities , religious or linguistic, to “establish and administer educational institutions of their choice”. The term “minority’’ is not defined in the Constitution but is generally meant to refer to a community which constitutes less than 50 per cent of the total population in a region.
There are two categories of minority educational institutions: religious minority institutions such as AMU and those listed at the start of this article; and linguistic. Maharashtra, in particular, has a large number of linguistic minority institutions catering to Marathi/Gujarati/Sindhi speaking groups. The RSS campaign is directed against religious minority institutions, especially those run by Muslim and Christian groups.
It is a regressive campaign aimed at creating a spurious controversy and ultimately destabilising some of the country’s best institutions. Admittedly, not all minority educational institutions are great. Many are no more than ghettos—a haven for second and third-rate minority community students who can’t admission elsewhere—with poor management and academic standards. They are in business only because of their founders’ political or financial clout.
The government should be pressured to use its leverage to shake up such institutions, if necessary by threatening to withdraw funding if they don’t shape up. But the the RSS has a different agenda. It doesn’t want any minority institutions. Full stop.
Well, the RSS is entitled to it in a democracy, but what it should not be allowed to get away with is a campaign based on deliberately twisted facts. Yet, surprisingly, there has been little reaction to it. Hopefully, in coming days present as well as ex-Stephanians, Xavierians, and Loyola-ites will stand up against it and tell BSM to keep its hands off their institutions.