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Minority Character of AMU: A case of history repeating itself

 Minority Character of AMU: A case of history repeating itself
The confusion over the minority character of Aligarh Muslim University can be traced back to the tenure of Education Minister Mr. M.C. Chagla who, for reasons best known to him suspended the AMU constitution, passed an ordinance through which the religious composition of the members of the Executive Council was changed drastically. In the words of A.G. Noorani this unscrupulous political meddling took the toll of academic freedom and autonomy .


 In a bid assimilate the Indian Muslims into the so called mainstream Chagla clearly intended to remove the word ‘Muslim’ from Aligarh Muslim University. As a knee jerk reaction Banaras Hindu University Amendment Bill of 1965 proposed the removal of the word “Hindu” from the name of BHU. Chagla had indicated in the parliament that in a secular country like India, there’s no place for sectarian words in the names of the universities like Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Banaras Hindu University(BHU). The mishandling of affairs in 1965 by Chagla based on his misconception and miscalculations which  for most part had the backing of the Central government led to the Azeez Basha case. The most unfortunate part was that there was no effort on the part of government to reassure the Muslim minority that the government was committed to protecting its rights, rather it appeared that the move of the education Minister enjoyed the blessings of the government.
It was against the amendment act passed by Parliament that some well wishers of the university challenged the validity of the law. In the  case of Azeez Basha  (Azeez Basha vs. Union of India 1968) the validity of AMU amendment Act 1965 was challenged in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately rather than determining the issue in an objective manner by looking at the history of the University and the overall nature, character and its overall identity the Court on a purely technical ground, held that Aligarh Muslim University was not established by the Muslim community rather it was established by the Act of Parliament in 1920. It is worthwhile to remember the fact that at the time of establishment of the AMU the only mode by which a University could be created was by an act of Parliament and not by any other means. The Court referred to a certain section of the Act which provided that the University shall, subject to the provisions of this Act and the Ordinances, be open to all persons of either sex and of whatever race, creed or class, and concluded that this showed that the University was not meant for the benefit of Muslims alone. However, quite strangely the court overlooked its own decision in Re-Kerala Education Bill where the Court had categorically stated that merely by admitting non minority students the minority institute will not cease to be a minority institute.
The anomaly did not end there and the Court further elaborated a line of argument which is  totally opposed to the spirit of Minority Rights. The Court observed that Muslim minority could establish a university in 1920 without the approval of the Parliament if it chose, however it could not insist on the recognition of its degrees by the Government.
Now this argument is fallacious on many grounds, firstly, it is impossible that anybody would send his ward to an institution where his degree would have no more value then a plain piece of paper. But this is precisely the kind of Minority University which the Court envisaged that the minorities could establish in the absence of Parliamentary approval.
Secondly, this line of reasoning effectively shuts out the scope for any University created by Minority because the only way a University could be established was by an act of Parliament and as per the Courts own ruling then it could not be called Minority institution. Paradoxically in the Azeez Basha case the Court accepted the argument that universities could be established under Article 30, so in effect the Court was in the same judgment allowing the establishment of University by Minorities and on the other hand was laying down impossible conditions for the establishment of University by Minorities.
Thirdly, the Court also overlooked decision of its own bench inthe Kerala Education Bill case opinion wherein it was held that “minorities will desire that their children should be brought up properly and efficiently and be eligible for higher university education and should go out in the world fully equipped with such intellectual attainments as will make them fit for entering the public services, educational institutions of their choice will necessarily include institutions imparting general secular education also”.
At this juncture a very important question arises that if the minorities would want their children  to be fully equipped so as to make them fit for entering public service then how would this purpose be achieved, by getting a degree from a recognized institution of excellence or by getting a degree which it could not insist upon being recognized by the government.
Therefore, the Court without actually overruling the Kerala Education bill opinion totally reversed its scope. If the bizarre interpretation given by Court in Basha case is accepted then it will lead to a situation where the minorities can establish University having world class standard but at the same time nobody, not even the members of minority community members will seek admission in them because the degrees, diplomas, etc. would not be recognized neither by the state nor by the employers. It is obvious that it was never the intention of the framers of Indian Constitution who had envisaged a vibrant India with adequate representation for minorities along with their distinct identity. Unfortunately the Court though its extremely narrow interpretation and by totally ignoring the history of Aligarh Muslim University(AMU) deprived the Muslim minority its rightful claim of administering AMU.
Moreover, later on the Court in the case of St. Stephens College relied heavily on the history of St. Stephens College, the fact that it had a prayer hall within its premises , the building had a huge cross(Christian Religious symbol) and held that St. Stephens College was a Christian Minority institution. If only the above criterion is applied to the AMU then there remains not even an iota of doubt that it is a Muslim Minority institution.
Unfortunately the Courts failed to accept the rightful claim of the Muslim Community to the AMU and due to the political games being played by successive governments the Minority character of the University was denied. When after a long struggle the AMU amendment Act of 1981 tried to rectify this lacunae then the Allahabad High Court refused to accept the reality of AMU being a minority institution.
It is an old saying that history repeats itself, at least one half of history is being repeated with the central government denying  that AMU is a Minority institution but it is hoped that the other half is not repeated. We should not have much hope from the political establishment whether it is the ruling party which is opposing the Minority status of the University or the opposition parties which are supporting the minority status as both of them have some axe to grind. Rather, we should earnestly hope that the Supreme Court rises to the occasion and grant to the Muslim Minority its rightful claim to the Aligarh Muslim University that is the only way a historical wrong would be corrected and the minorities reassured about their future, safety and importance as integral part of India.

About the Author:
Faisal Ahmed Khan is a product of Faculty of Law AMU from where he has successfully completed B.A.LL.B(Hons) and LL.M, he has also taught in the Department of Law AMU, Malappuram Centre. He has keen interest in the University and Muslim issues, he can be reached at faisalaik@gmail.com

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