November 2005 
Year 12    No.112

Cover Story

Flawed judgement

Aligarh Muslim University is, without doubt, a minority institution but it must
allow reservations for Backward Caste Muslims alone


The Allahabad High Court in order to quash the 50 per cent quota for Muslims had to declare Aligarh Muslim University itself a non-minority institution since the reservation quota was based on its being a minority institution. However, the hon’ble court has based its judgement on the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Azeez Basha vs Union of India. In this case, the hon’ble judges of the Supreme Court concluded that Muslims are one homogenous community and in contrast the Hindus are not. Thus, according to this logic, Muslims constitute a majority community and Hindus several minority communities. So if Muslims are a minority according to this strange logic, they cannot enjoy a minority status as stipulated in Article 30 of the Constitution.

As to the second question, whether Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had established Aligarh Muslim University, it concluded that MAO College was transformed into a university through an Act of Parliament, which was representative of the whole country. As such, the judgement arrived at the conclusion that the Muslims are neither a minority community nor did they establish AMU and hence it is not a minority institution under the Indian Constitution.

The Allahabad High Court based its judgement on the Supreme Court judgement and quashed the 50 per cent quota as unconstitutional. If such perverse logic is applied, no justice will ever be done.

Historically, Muslims have been recognised as a minority community and apart from this, Muslims are not a homogenous community at all. They too are divided into various sects and follow different doctrines and practices. They are also divided into caste systems and do not intermarry. Certain beliefs are common but this is also true among Hindus. The Supreme Court judgement in the above case has negated the age-old consensus among all leaders of the freedom struggle and all negotiations based on the assumption that Muslims are a minority community.

Technically, it is true that AMU was established according to a parliamentary Act and is financed by the Government of India. But one cannot deny the fact that MAO College was established by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who raised the entire infrastructure, including buildings, and this college fulfilled the needs of North Indian Muslims for close to 35 years. Moreover, it was on the insistence of Muslims themselves that the British government transformed it into a university.

Later, the Indian Parliament also amended the Aligarh Muslim University Act in 1981 and recognised the university as a Muslim institution, and it continued to be recognised as a minority institution. If one quashes its minority character by using such logic that Muslims are a majority community and Hindus are in the minority then one begins to doubt whether the judges have applied their minds properly or have become victims of certain myths being propagated by certain interests.

Also, it is well known that Muslims are very backward and in fact slipping even below the Scheduled Castes in all economic and educational indices. One should try to help Muslims through positive action rather than take away even legitimate rights. It is true that there is a controversy about reservations on a religious basis. Should the entire Muslim community be treated as one and reservations be given to the community as a whole or should this be done on the basis of caste? 

Indian Muslims, most of whom were converted from low castes, retained their caste identities though untouchability was not as severe among them as among Hindus. Many Muslim leaders and activists belonging to lower castes are now struggling for the benefits of reservations on a caste basis. Today in UP, Bihar, Maharashtra and other states there is a Backward Caste movement asking for Mandal Commission benefits. They maintain, and rightly so, that until now the ashraf (upper caste Muslims like Syeds, Shaikhs, Pathans etc.) have pocketed all the benefits in the name of Muslims and that this cannot be allowed perpetually.

Should reservations in various professional courses granted by the AMU executive committee and confirmed by the human resources ministry be given to Muslims as a whole or to Backward Caste Muslims only? This is the real question. It is true that Backward Caste Muslims have been left high and dry while all the benefits have gone to a small section of upper caste Muslims. Democracy and implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations has brought new awareness among these poor and OBC Muslims to fight for their rights.

The real debate should not be whether reservations ought to be given or not but about which sections of Muslims this benefit should reach. The Left, which has always been sympathetic towards the plight of the Muslim minority, should not ask for the scrapping of religion-based reservations in toto but should use its influence to get benefits for OBC Muslims.

It is true that an overwhelming majority of Muslims in India today belong to the OBC and Dalit categories. There are hardly 10 per cent of Muslims who belong to the ashraf categories...

Thus, in my opinion, the reservations granted in professional courses (at AMU) should be retained and their benefit be given to OBC Muslims... Like the lower caste among Hindus these lower caste Muslims have also suffered intensely. In this way, communal forces will also not be able to exploit these reservations for Muslims politically.

(Excerpted from an article by the author. Asghar Ali Engineer is a noted
Bohra reformist and human rights activist.)

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