The minority character of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has come under legal and political scrutiny recently. On 17 July, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "The government-funded AMU can't have minority tag." Earlier, on 11 July, the Supreme Court gave four weeks to AMU to respond to a central government move that defended Allahabad High Court's verdict that the university was not a minority institution. In 2005, a High Court judge had passed an order declaring AMU's minority status as well as AMU's decision to give 50 percent reservation to Muslims as "unconstitutional."
Under Articles 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution, minorities have rights to protect their cultural identity and establish educational institutions. Article 30(1) says: "All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice." Therefore, the Constitution does not prevent Muslims or other communities from establishing and managing educational institutions. The AMU was established as a college for the scientific advancement of Muslims. Such minority institutions must be funded by minority communities themselves, not by the Indian state.
The Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had established in 1875, was dissolved and re-established as the Aligarh Muslim University by an act of Indian Parliament in 1920. The AMU therefore is subject to the provisions of the Constitution. While the Constitution gives rights to minorities to establish educational institutions, such institutions cannot retain a minority character if their funding comes from the Indian state. India being a secular state, AMU cannot get taxpayers' money. Under Article 30(2), the state can give aid to minority institutions. But the AMU's case is not a case of the state giving aid, but a case of the Indian state fully funding and running an institution specifically for a minority community.
An additional issue with the AMU is that it is a central university. This means that an institution of national importance in the country cannot be allowed to carry a religious affiliation, promote teachings of any religion or admit students predominantly from a religious community. All central universities must give a sense of national integration among their students which can happen only if students from all communities and all regions of India are represented at the AMU without any discrimination based on religion, region or caste. The AMU reserved 50 percent seats to Muslims in medical courses in 2004 which is a violation of the Constitution because a university established by an act of the Indian parliament cannot discriminate based on religious ground.
The AMU's leadership must come out of the minority mindset. It must not insist on retaining AMU's minority character because it sends out a wrong signal among Indian Muslims that they have only one university to look for. The fact is otherwise: Muslims in India, like equal citizens from other communities, have access to thousands of colleges and universities for their educational uplift. The tendency among the Muslims of northern India, especially those in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, to see AMU as their only option births an intellectual separatism among them from India's social mainstream. This separatism harms the interests of Muslims. It was this intellectual separatism emerging from the AMU campus that gave birth to Pakistan movement, thereby creating Pakistan which continues to torment India even today.
A far more worrying situation is that the secular Indian republic lacks clarity about how to maintain distance from all religions. Due to political correctness among politicians, the secular Indian state funds Islam and its religious orthodoxies. For example, at the AMU, the Indian state funds an entire Faculty of Theology which runs the Department of Sunni Theology and the Department of Shia Theology. In addition to non-teaching staff, these departments employ a dozen academics, some of them of the professor's rank, receiving salaries from the secular state for teaching religious orthodoxies to Muslims. Both these departments are funded by the Indian state in violation of the secular character of the Constitution. Not only at the AMU but in several universities, the Indian state funds departments of Islamic studies which cannot be acceptable in a secular democracy.
The AMU issue also has wider implications. It is a bane of the secular Indian state that it also funds madrasas which are not educational institutions but counter-liberty movements of religious ideas that promote religious obscurantism among Muslims. In this way, the secular Indian state gives money to madrasas and theology departments to keep Muslims in their religious cocoon. This funding of madrasas and departments of Islamic studies by the secular state creates a large-scale class of Islamic clerics and professors who feed religious obscurantism among Muslims. This is because the Indian state has abdicated its role to teach Muslim children.
Also, the Muslim leadership in India must grasp the fact that AMU's minority character gives birth to a ghetto mentality among Muslims and prevents them from thinking that they can enroll in other universities too. Such a ghetto mindset among Muslims creates a sense of grievance, defeatism and victimhood. This sociological alienation among students at AMU acts as obstacles to their progress and integration once they graduate out of the university and enter the nation's workforce. Generally speaking, Muslim youths graduating from AMU think only to the benefit of Muslims, not for the benefit of all Indians. The NDA government's opposition to AMU's minority status is not only constitutionally valid, but it also treats Muslims as full citizens – unlike the previous Congress governments which treated Muslims only as half-citizens suitable for vote-bank politics.
For the integration of Muslims in India's social mainstream, the Indian government must look not only at the AMU, but also other state-funded universities and examine their role in keeping Muslims separate from the country's mainstream life. For example, at the Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, the Indian state funds a centre of comparative religions which is fine, but it also funds another centre of Islamic studies which is not fine. Departments of Islamic studies at various Indian universities, financed wholly by the secular state, do not contribute anything to India's wider democratic intellectual discourse. Their only function seems to be to keep the Muslim community within the web of religion, which cannot be the responsibility of the Indian state to fund.
This article first appeared in the New Age Islam, a digital network of Muslims who oppose the obscurantism that has gripped Islam by highlighting the rich inheritance of the spiritual traditions of tolerance, pluralism and multi-culturalism. It is being republished with their permission.
The author is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He tweets @tufailelif
Updated Date: Aug 09, 2016 08:04 AM