UGC wants AMU to drop 'Muslim', BHU to drop 'Hindu' from name: Knee-jerk recommendation ignores history

An audit committee of the University Grants Commission has suggested that the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Benaras Hindu University (BHU) should drop the words "Muslim" and "Hindu" respectively from their institution's name. According to The Indian Express, the committee argued that as AMU and BHU are Centre-funded institutions, it needs to adopt a more secular character.

However the UGC recommendations overlooks the reason why the two institutions came into existence, which precedes the secular narrative of the post-Independent India.

After the 1857 War of Independence, Muslims lost their socio-economic dominance to the British. In order to help Muslims adjust to the new English-centric ruling class, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan felt that the Muslims needed to receive Western education. So, in 1877, Khan established the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College in Aligarh.

According to the university website, the college gave rise to "a new educated class of Indian Muslims, who were active in the political system of the British Raj."

The institution grew by leaps and bounds, and by 1920s, it was granted the university status by the British. The importance of the institution can be determined by the belief that the foundation for the idea of Pakistan was first laid here.

Leaders like Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister of Pakistan, Khwaja Nazimuddin, the second governor-general of Pakistan and Malik Ghulam Mohammad, a leading Pakistan Movement leader, were the products of AMU.

Early 20th century was a period when the British first began playing the "divide and rule" card. The Bengal partition in 1905, which was later annulled in 1911 and the idea to give separate electorates to Muslims were some of the moves played by the British to fuel the divide.

The Banaras Hindu University. Image courtesy:

The Banaras Hindu University. Image courtesy:

It was during such a turbulent period that Madan Mohan Malviya, a former Congress leader, decided to establish the Banaras Hindu University in 1916.

Malviya's idea of the University was quite similar to that of Khan. Like Khan, Malviya wanted to give the best western education to Indians. However, he wanted to couple it with the ancient knowledge that Indian institutions like Takshshila and Nalanda possesed.

The choice of Banaras as the site for the university itself is symbolic. According to this short biography, Malviya chose Banaras as it was the site of the centuries-old tradition of learning, wisdom and spirituality inherent to the place.

The formation of the two institution is deeply rooted in the political situation of 2oth century British Raj, when, needless to say, the idea of secularism, as enshrined in our Constitution, was missing.

After India's independence, both AMU and BHU have witnessed major changes. With the Article 30 of the Indian Constitution allowing reservations for minority communities, AMU tried to reserve half of the seats for Muslims. But the issue is now subjudice as non-Muslim students went to the Allahabad High Court appealing against it.

On the other hand, BHU has no special quota for the Hindu majority in free India.

There are clarifications that the UGC needs to address now as far as the latest suggestions go. Whether dropping the word "Hindu" and "Muslim" will do away with the history of these institutions.

Just changing the names of organisations having "religious overtones" may be a superficial exercise.

If the UGC's idea persists, then soon Madras Christian College, an autonomous college, to would have to drop "Christian" from its name. Similarly, Jamia Millia Islamia, the reputed Delhi college, roughly translates to Community Islamic College. This college will also need to undergo a change of name. For example, several minority-run institutions like the several St Xavier's colleges across India, which are administered by Jesuits priests.

The Mumbai branch of St Xavier's is also an autonomous college, which gets grants from the UGC and the Maharashtra government. Significantly, it also reserves 50 percent of the seats for Catholics.

So, do these institutions too change their name from St Xavier, the patron saint of Jesuits, to reflect secular credentials? Only the HRD ministry has the answers to these questions.

Updated Date: Oct 09, 2017 14:38 PM

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