AMU asked to provide reservations to SC/ST students again: Varsity's status as minority institute has been under threat since 1965

Aligarh: Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is again in the news, this time over its minority status. On Friday, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes told the university to either provide reservations like all central varsities do or submit documents to prove its minority status, giving it time till August to do so.

The AMU had earlier stated that it is a minority institute governed by the AMU Act of 1981 and that the Constitution exempts minority institutions from implementing the reservation policy. On Friday, the university reiterated its stand, saying it has maintained status quo on the orders of the Supreme Court and is not providing any kind of reservation to even Muslim students.

In 2006, the Allahabad High Court had declared that AMU is not a minority institution, and this was challenged by the varsity in the Supreme Court, which ordered status quo to be maintained.

 AMU asked to provide reservations to SC/ST students again: Varsitys status as minority institute has been under threat since 1965

File image of Aligarh Muslim University. Courtesy: News18

The reservation issue was again raked up last month by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, when he demanded a quota for Dalits in minority-run institutions such as AMU and Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia.

Following this, the Uttar Pradesh Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Commission issued a notice to AMU, asking it to explain why it does not provide reservations to the SC/ST communities.

What's a minority institute?

According to Article 30 of the Constitution, minority institutions are those established by the religious or linguistic minority communities of India. Such institutes are allowed to admit students of their community and the state cannot enforce a reservation policy on them. Any such institution is designated the status of a minority institution depending on the community's relative strength in that particular state.

Shafey Kidwai, member-in-charge of public relations at AMU, explained the matter further: "The university was made by Muslims and with the support of people from other religions, but it got the minority tag in 1981 under the Aligarh Muslim (Amendment) Act and has since then been a minority institution," adding, "Reservations to Muslim students were never given by the varsity until 2005. Then too, it was limited to a few courses and was later challenged in court."

A hearing on the matter was held on Thursday at the Supreme Court, and has been adjourned for a week. AMU has requested the court to allot the case to a double bench or a Constitution Bench. Kidwai pointed out that the "ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) had written to the varsity in 2004 asking it to frame a reservation policy according to the AMU Act of 1981", adding that AMU is "not following any reservation policy based on caste and religion".

The vice-chancellor has the power to nominate students for reservation, that too to the extent of 20 percent. The reservation policy is based on seven criteria, Kidwai explained. "To be clear, the university is following the internal and external reservation policy. Half the seats are reserved for students who passed Class XII from schools run by AMU or those from under-graduate courses. The rest are for external students," he said.

A meeting in this regard was chaired at the AMU on Friday and it was decided that the university's reply to the row would point out that the matter is subjudice.

Controversy before 2019 elections

According to professor Shakeel Samdani, from the university's law department, a controversy is being created to gain political mileage ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and create a rift between the Dalits and Muslims, who constitute a major votebank in Uttar Pradesh.

"The BJP recently lost four major elections in the state and trouble is being brewed over issues such as the Jinnah portrait or the kalawa. This is all being done to break the votebank comprising Dalits, Muslims and backward castes. This issue has been created for a political purpose," the professor said.

He added that people bringing up the reservation issue do not love minorities, nor respect the Constitution or Supreme Court, where the matter is pending.

AMU's history of conflict over minority status

Starting as a college in 1875, it was converted into a university in 1920. While after Partition, a few changes were made in the Varsity Act, in 1965, drastic changes were incorporated by former vice-chancellor Ali Yavar Jung, who opposed reservation on religious grounds. "All changes made by Jung were considered anti-Muslim and against the principal on which the university was established. Many protests were lodged by the students because the changes killed the spirit of the minority Act," professor Samdani said.

"Later in 1968, the Supreme Court declared AMU as not being a minority institute (Azeez Basha vs Union of India). But in 1981, former prime minister Indira Gandhi brought an amendment in the AMU Act restoring its minority status," he added.

The senior law professor pointed out that in 1998, veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, who was then handling the HRD ministry, supported AMU's minority tag. "Firebrand leaders of the BJP like Joshi, LK Advani and Subramanian Swami have supported 50 percent reservation for Muslims in minority institutions and there are thousands of institutes in India, mostly Christian, that have minority status," he said.

Katheria's stand

However, Ram Shankar Katheria, BJP MP from Agra and chairperson of the National Commission for Schedule Castes, told an English daily that AMU does not qualify to be a minority institution under Article 30(1) and this was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1968. "The university was given minority status by the Congress government in 1981 but the provision was struck down by the Allahabad High Court in 2006," the newspaper said, quoting Katheria.

When contacted, he insisted on the same, asking, "AMU is not a minority university, so why can't reservation be given to SC/ST students? All central universities are supposed to give reservation to the unprivileged. HRD ministry and the University Grants Commission are assisting such universities financially, including AMU, so how can the same rules not apply to it?"

He promised to "keep the struggle going".

The author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters

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Updated Date: Jul 14, 2018 14:06:23 IST