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Centre To Withdraw Its Earlier Support For Jamia Millia Islamia's Minority Status

A knotty history.

07/08/2017 1:01 PM IST | Updated 07/08/2017 1:15 PM IST
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The Centre is set to file a fresh affidavit in Delhi High Court to withdraw its earlier stand of supporting minority status for Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) University, The Indian Express reported.

In 2011, the UPA-II government, then in power, had supported the order of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) to declare JMI a religious minority institution.

The move was in sync with Article 30(1) of the Indian Constitution, read with Section 2(g) of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act, which give all religious and linguistic minorities the right to set up and run educational institutions, including schools, colleges and universities.

As a result of the 2011 order, JMI stopped reservations for SC/ST or OBC students and set aside half of its seats for Muslim students. Hence 30% of the seats in all courses is reserved for Muslim candidates, 10% for Muslim women, and another 10% for Muslim Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Tribes as notified under the Central government list.

However, the NDA-II government has opposed JMI's minority status since it came to power in 2014. In January 2016, then Attorney General of India Mukul Rohtagi advised the human resource development ministry, then headed by Smriti Irani, that it was legally entitled to oppose the NCMEI's order.

The law ministry in its recommendation clarified that JMI, which was founded by a Central legislation, was neither started by Muslims nor run by the community. Hence, it wasn't entitled to the minority status.

Rohtagi had also cited the precedence of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which, after the Azeez Basha vs Union of India case in 1968, was deemed by the Supreme Court as not eligible to be a minority institution. In its ruling, the apex court said that since AMU was set up by the British legislature and not by the Muslim community, it cannot claim a special status.

But that's only part of a long and knotty history.

In 1981, Parliament passed the AMU Amendment Act to undo the SC's ruling, accepting that AMU was, indeed, set up by Muslims. However, in yet another twist, in 2005, Allahabad High Court ruled that the 1981 Act was ultra vires, taking away from AMU its minority status once again.

Although AMU's appeal against the order wasn't heeded, the SC stayed the Allahabad High Court ruling, effectively giving AMU back its minority status. But in January 2016, the Centre, once again, changed its mind and decided that AMU was established by an Act of Parliament and therefore couldn't be given the privileges of a minority institution.

In the case of JMI, the NCMEI held in 2011 that it "was founded by the Muslims for the benefit of Muslims and it never lost its identity as a Muslim minority educational institution". But, as in the case of AMU, the historical circumstances in which JMI was started makes the story of its origins more complicated.

According to Section 2(o) of the JMI Act, the university was founded in 1920 in Aligarh, later shifted to New Delhi, by nationalist Muslim leaders, heeding the call of MK Gandhi to boycott educational institutions run by the British. In 1962, JMI became a deemed university and was granted the status of a Central university through a Central law in 1988.

It remains to be seen if the government's latest move will finally solve the dilemma over its status once and for all.

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