The minority status of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia has been a matter of debate for a long time in our country. The recent call of the central government to withdraw its support to Jamia Millia Islamia's minority status is rife with distortions and misinterpretations of historical facts.
It's worth noting here that both AMU and Jamia Millia were established long before Indian independence and have played an outstanding role in India's freedom struggle.
Jamia Millia Islamia was established and managed by the Muslim community and hence fulfilled the basic criteria of being a minority educational institution under Article 30(1) of the Constitution.
Jamia Millia Islamia was born in 1920 with the concerted efforts of Muslim leaders involved in the freedom struggle. The very idea of establishing this institution was to heed Mahatma Gandhi's call to boycott British control of educational intuitions. Since its inception, Jamia Millia Islamia has striven successfully to live up to the ideals which it was established for. It is continuously contributing to nation-building in every sphere. The institution was established to inculcate in Muslim youth definite ideas of their rights and duties as Indian citizens and to coordinate Islamic thought and behaviour with that of the majority. The general aim was to create a harmonious nationhood without Muslims losing their Islamic identity.
If the legal system is to be observed minutely then the concept of "minority institution" was itself incorporated once the Constitution was adopted in 1950. The Constitution under Article 30 (1) states that all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. Minority institutions can reserve 50% seats for their own community. The law under Article 30 (2) also guarantees that governments will not discriminate in granting aid to educational institutions on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.
Under the constitutional mandate, the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), a quasi-judicial body set up in November 2004, declared Jamia Millia Islamia to be a minority institution. The commission while examining historical facts noted that Jamia Millia Islamia was established and managed by the Muslim community and hence fulfilled the basic criteria of being a minority educational institution under Article 30(1) of the Constitution. The committee also observed that the institution was founded for the benefit of Muslims and it has never lost its identity as a Muslim minority educational institution. Therefore, minority status was given to Jamia Millia Islamia for maintaining the secular credentials of the nation and for securing the minority rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
The historical identities of institutions— whether academic or non-academic—ought to be safeguarded rather than distorted and manipulated.
Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution and a staunch advocate of social justice strongly advocated for minority rights. According to him, the rights for minorities should be absolute rights. They should not be subject to any consideration as to what another party may like to do to minorities within its jurisdiction.
Thus, the democratically elected government is expected to preserve the multiculturalism and pluralism of the nation as has been the hallmark of India. The historical identities of institutions— whether academic or non-academic—ought to be safeguarded rather than distorted and manipulated. Ensuring equal treatment, safeguarding fundamental rights of every citizen of the country and making special provisions in favour of the weaker sections of society are among the tenets of the democratic set up. The legacy of Jamia Millia Islamia, an institution established by the vigorous efforts of Muslim leaders, needs to be respected. The honour of freedom fighters should be upheld rather than demeaning their contribution towards their community and the nation.