November 2005 
Year 12    No.112

Cover Story

No to communal reservations

Communal reservations at Aligarh Muslim University have struck at the
very character and repute of the institution


Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was a fairly small university when independence came. With the AMU (Amend-
ment) Act, 1951, the Government of India took up the entire responsibility for its maintenance and provided it with a largely democratic and autonomous structure. The result of these steps was the beginning of a phase of expansion of the university with central government funds (afterwards routed through the University Grants Commission). The Chatterji Committee appointed to review the working of the university (1960) commended the Act of 1951 and agreed that a policy of admissions, where some preference may be given to internal students, should continue. The Act of 1951 forbade in its Article 8 the admission of students through any "test of religious belief" and the question of reservation for Muslims was not raised by anyone.

Unfortunately, a sudden enhancement of the internal quota to 75 per cent in 1963 and its proposed reduction in 1965 created a violent incident in the latter year. The Government of India took the opportunity to practically scuttle the Act of 1951 through an ordinance and in effect took over control of the university’s administration by its nominees. This action had the most disastrous consequences. As against government control, the issue of AMU’s autonomy as a minority institution was raised for the first time by many critics of the government’s ham-handed act. It was only after seven years that in 1972 certain amendments were made to restore some internal authority to AMU, but there yet remained in it far too many undemocratic provisions, reminiscent of the 1965 ordinance…

Finally, in 1981 Indira Gandhi’s government brought forth amendments to show that they were trying to underline the minority character of AMU… But that these provisions were intended to have no effect on the policy of admissions was shown by the reformulation, by the same amendment Act, of Section 8, in the following words: "The university shall be open to all persons (including the teachers and taught) of either sex and of whatever race, religion, creed or class". The only proviso to this was permission to provide religious instruction to "those who have consented to receive it". There is no proviso for any kind of denominational reservation…

The whole question was reopened by the BJP government in 2003-04. In his effort to bring admissions to all professional courses in the country under his control, Murli Manohar Joshi, the then human resource development (HRD) minister, sanctioned a 50 per cent Muslim quota for the Jamia Hamdard (a "Deemed University"), and as the AMU vice chancellor has confirmed, offered the same to AMU. It is not surprising that the VC of AMU has been citing the Hamdard Deemed University’s quota system as a precedent for AMU, although Hamdard is an institution managed by a private trust while AMU is administered according to a parliamentary Act and, being maintained by the government, is ‘part of the state’ in the eyes of the law…

The new admission policy, which reverses a tradition established since AMU’s foundation, stipulates that at the maximum only 25 per cent of the seats in the main professional and technical courses (medicine, engineering, management, etc.) would now be absolutely open to merit. A further 20 per cent will be reserved for internal students. For ‘Muslims of India’ who fail to enter AMU through these two channels, a 50 per cent quota would be provided. Finally, there will be a five per cent discretionary quota for admitting children of employees, alumni, government servants, SC/ST candidates, etc. In medicine, the percentages are 25 per cent general, 25 per cent internal and 50 per cent for Muslim candidates not getting through under the first two categories. There is thus to be practically no SC/ST quota at any level…

What the university authorities and the HRD ministry have entirely failed to recognise is the blow they have struck at the character and repute of AMU. The letter from the MHRD to allied parties quotes from the speech of late CPI leader Indrajit Gupta where he rightly said that a university does not become communal if it has a majority of Muslims – which for AMU has always been the case. But if a religious test is imposed – which Indrajit Gupta never contemplated, and which Section 8, as redrafted by the very Amendment Act of 1981, entirely bans – it can no longer be said that the admissions to AMU are not communally oriented…

Far from addressing this very important issue, the university authorities have, in order to justify their new admission policy, publicly run down the quality of education imparted at AMU both in its schools and in its university classes (Admission Review Committee’s Report, pp. 2-3)…

A university is an intellectual community. Until now it was the proud boast of AMU that once a student is admitted here there would be no discrimination between him and others on any sectarian grounds. Neither the university authorities nor the MHRD seem willing to consider the very disturbing fact that now on the AMU campus there would be two sets of students – one set disadvantaged by its religion, and having only half the chance than the other of getting admitted to a higher course. One cannot predict the tensions that such discrimination could breed on the campus.

(Excerpted from an article published in Communalism Combat, June 2005. Irfan Habib is an eminent historian and former professor of history, Aligarh Muslim University.)

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