A news portal had reported in July that a panel formed by the central government-funded agency has reiterated what has become common knowledge now: “The educationally most disadvantaged community among minorities in India are the Muslims.”
The 11-member panel of the Maulana Azad Education Foundation (MAEF), formed in December last year, had recommended to establish 211 central schools on the lines of Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas – one in each minority-concentrated block and pocket in cities – besides, community colleges and central institutions to be established through Acts of Parliament.
In the report that has mysteriously gone missing, although its cached version is still available, minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, was quoted as saying that the recommendations are in line with the government campaign to empower the minorities educationally. He had also said, “We are currently studying the report. We will figure out the components which can be easily implemented. We will try to implement the 'doables' from the next academic year.”
As someone who follows Muslim politics closely and writes regularly on the subject, for once, I really felt positive about the current government’s initiative hoping this can go a long way in empowering the community.
I was hence shocked to read the news about the Ministry of Human Resource Development's (HRD) decision to revise its affidavit in the Delhi High Court, withdrawing its support to minority status for the central university of Jamia Millia Islamia, though almost everyone connected with this university – as also with the Aligarh Muslim University - saw it coming since 2014 when the BJP-led government came to power.
Although a university with “minority character” since its inception, Jamia was accorded the status of “minority university” in 2011 by the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), which allows them to reserve up to 50 per cent of the seats for the minority community (in this case Muslims).
The consistent stand of BJP leaders and their government has been that universities like Jamia or AMU were established by Acts of Parliament and are funded by the central government and hence it cannot have reservations for one particular community. They see such actions as purported “appeasement” of the Muslim community.
Legalists like professor Faizan Mustafa have written on how AMU and Jamia should indeed be treated as minority institutions, adding that it will undermine the institution of Parliament and will shake the confidence of the minorities.
My question, however, is more political. Almost all government-funded universities and colleges – and in jobs - have at least 50 per cent seats reserved (in some states even more) for different communities, most importantly SC/ST, OBC and others. This is rightly justified in the name of social justice.
Lucknow-based Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University is a central university that has 50 per cent reservation for Dalit students alone – thus no reservation for ST and OBC.
However, the moment the question of reservation for Muslim comes, everyone starts shouting about appeasement, as if Muslims are not citizens of this country, and they should have no right on the resources of this country. While some sections within the Muslim community do get reservation under OBC, they are not recognised as SC (along with Christians).
In fact, a recent report suggested that some institutions denies OBC Muslims reservation benefits even in a state like West Bengal.
Article 30(1) gives linguistic and religious minorities rights to establish and administer their own institutions. From Jains to Sikhs and Christians and several other communities have their own minority institutions, and many of them do get some sort of grant or financial support from several government bodies.
Still, half-baked arguments on public-funded universities are pushed despite the fact that not one but several government-appointed committees – including the Sachar Committee Report, Kundu Committee Report, Ranganath Misra Report - have acknowledged the abysmally poor conditions of Muslims, and recommended some sort of affirmative action - most recently the report of the MAFE, I quoted above.
It is a fact that blocks with Muslim concentration are less likely to have schools, colleges and universities. For example, a 2016 survey, "Living Reality of Muslims in West Bengal", noted that districts with Muslim concentration have less number of government-run primary schools or private schools per 10,000 students.
Unlike JNU, Jamia has been more than willing to comply with all government directions – from performing yoga to hoisting the national flag and creating 'wall of heroes' without much fuss.
According to one survey, although the rate of Muslim enrolment in higher education has almost trebled from 5.2 per cent to 13.8 per cent in a decade at the end of 2010, they still remain far behind the national average of 23 per cent. Scheduled Castes (due to reservation policies) now stand at 18.5 per cent while scheduled tribe lag behind Muslims by just 0.5 per cent. In fact, the percentage of Muslim students in most elite institutions is practically negligible. And if universities like Jamia or AMU also restrict their opportunities, the number of educated Muslims may further come down in years to come.
With the BJP government at the Centre, the Jamia fraternity had realised that it will face the constant scrutiny of the government, and perhaps as a means to reach out to the government, it had invited the then HRD minister Smriti Irani for the convocation way back in 2014, established a skill development centre in the name of Jan Sangh founder Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, and from the current academic session started the new Sanskrit department.
Unlike the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia has been more than willing to comply with all government directions – from performing yoga (even during Ramzan fast) to hoisting the national flag and creating "wall of heroes" (Mig16 was installed at Jamia years back) – without much fuss.
Recently, the RSS-supported Muslim Rashtriya Manch held its grand iftar party on the campus that was attended by senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar. But, the BJP government, it seems, will not sit back unless the few opportunities left for the deprived minority students are also blocked.
The MAEF had kindled hope that the present government may do course-correction and would indeed work for the promised goal of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas". But its unflinching stand on AMU and Jamia is contrary to what the latest report had recommended and Naqvi had echoed.
The university administration, meanwhile, maintains a studied silence, and its spokesperson called such reports mere speculation, adding that they have not got any directive from the government yet.