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Published in the 16-31 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Minority character of AMU threatened 
By Kaleem Kawaja

AMU, ALigarh Muslim UniversityThe Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) founded in 1920, grew out of the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College established by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in 1875, to become a major university in the Indian subcontinent. Besides emerging as a center of modern education, AMU also became a citadel of the unique South Asian Muslim culture and identity. Many prominent Muslim leaders in various fields in the first half of the twentieth century were graduates of AMU. 

However, after the creation of Pakistan, AMU became the target of attacks of anti-Muslim forces who wanted to erase the distinct identity of the subcontinentís Muslims. Soon after 1947, these forces made a determined attempt to change the Muslim character of AMU. At that time, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Indiaís Education Minister, with the help of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, succeeded in preserving AMUís Muslim character. 

The anti-Muslim forces, who were successful in removing the Muslim character of Osmania University, Hyderabad, in 1949, made another attempt to do the same to AMU in 1981. Fortunately, Indira Gandhi the then Prime Minister of India, lent her support to the enactment of an Act in the Indian Parliament that reaffirmed the Muslim character of AMU under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution. This Article guarantees the right of religious minorities to establish their educational institutions and be autonomous in managing them. 
Recently the anti-Muslim forces that targeted AMU in the past have again become resurgent. The University Grants Commission (UGC), an autonomous Indian government body, recently issued a notice to AMU that unless it removes its admission system (internal students quota) that allows a higher number of Muslim students to gain admission, its grant will be eliminated. The Muslim community in India being economically very depressed is in no position to give up the UGC grant for AMU due to it under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution and the 1981 Act of Indian Parliament, especially since AMU does not have any endowment funds. 

In the last three decades, the socioeconomic condition of Muslims in India, and the educational standard of Muslim high schools, has deteriorated substantially. In national competition for admission to professional colleges (Medicine, Engineering, MBA), Muslims fare poorly. To ensure that AMU remains a university where a large number of Muslim students, especially from lower middle classes can acquire professional education needed to obtain decent jobs, AMU devised a workable system called the Internal Students quota. 
AMUís professional colleges fill about half of their about 350 seats by using the Internal Students quota; the other half of the seats are filled by competition from students external to AMU. To qualify for the Internal Students quota, students have to study at AMUís higher secondary school. Every year about 100,000 students, mostly Muslim, apply for admission to AMUís higher secondary school. After screening the applications, about 10,000 students are allowed to sit in a competitive entrance examination for the schoolís about 900 seats. As Internal Students, they then become eligible through another competitive entrance examination, for about half of the about 350 seats for professional/science courses. Typically about 96 percent of the Internal Students selected are Muslim. AMU fills up the remaining half of all such seats by an open entrance examination among External Students. Typically about 15 percent of the External Students selected are Muslims. 

The net result is that the overall number of Muslim students in higher science courses/ professional colleges at AMU is about 55-60 percent. If the Internal Students quota admission system is removed, the number of Muslim students in these courses will plummet to about 15 to 20 percent - a huge loss for the Muslim community in India. AMU will then become a Muslim university only in name with 85 percent of the students being non-Muslims. It will greatly reduce the already very low ability of Muslims in India to acquire professional educational and employment. 

Besides providing a much-needed indirect preference for Muslim students at AMU, who due to the poor standard of Muslim high schools, poor educational/ socioeconomic backgrounds, and discrimination, are unable to compete with non-Muslims for admission to other universities, AMU is a source of inexpensive education. Tuition, boarding, lodging cost about Rs 7000 ($200) per year. Charges in other Indian universities are four to five times higher- charges that Muslim students from lower middle-classes simply cannot afford. 
With the elections to the Indian Parliament looming on the horizon, the Indian education minister MM Joshi has made a political spin and has made a misleading statement that he will work to ensure that Muslim students are given admission to half of the seats at AMU. But since UGC is an autonomous Commission, independent of the Education Ministry, Joshiís statement is of little value. Besides, the Muslims of India have often been given such deceptive promises, only to have the rug pulled from under their feet. Remember, the solemn promise to safeguard the Babri mosque? 

In view of the Indian Muslim communityís high rate of educational backwardness, it is crucial for the welfare of the Muslims of India that AMUís current Internal Students quota admission system is retained. The senior management of AMU and Indiaís Muslim leaders are striving hard to retain the current AMU student admission system in order to preserve the Muslim character of AMU. They deserve the support of all Indian Muslims, especially the alumnus of AMU. 

Kaleem Kawaja is a director of the Association of I
ndian Muslims of America, Washington DC

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