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

LAW WATCH
Muslims and the Educational Scene in UP

By Tahir Mahmood

Tahir MahoodGoing against the myth of the Muslims being a "12% minority in India", there are in the country a number of regions known for their Muslim domination or concentration. There are the Union Territory of Lakshadweep in the South and the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the North, with their officially-admitted Muslim populations of over-94% and over-64% respectively. Next to these is the State of Assam, with its nearly 30% Muslims, followed by West Bengal and Kerala in each of which the Muslims account for about a quarter of the local populations. Then comes the giant State of Uttar Pradesh - the acclaimed seat of Lucknow-Muslim culture admired all over the world -- where as per the Census Report of 1991 the Muslim population was a little below 17.5 %. Head-wise, there were then in UP over 17.5 million Muslims -- this being the biggest concentration of Muslims in the country. To what extent have these figures been affected by the creation of the State of Uttaranchal in recent years is yet to be fully ascertained. Nevertheless the Muslim population in UP remains higher than the total population in any of the small oil-rich countries of the Gulf like Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE.

For the enormous Muslim population of UP the richness of the kind prevailing in the Gulf however remains a cry for the moon. A proper educational development and necessary economic prosperity are, in this 57th year of Independence, still beyond their reach. Legally, the UP Muslims like the rest of the citizens of the country have their educational and economic rights under the Constitution of India which guarantees equality and equal protection of laws to all Indians irrespective of their different religious faiths. They have with them the protection of Article 28 of the Constitution which prohibits compulsory participation in religious worship and instruction in educational institutions maintained or aided by the State, the assurance of Article 29 that they are free to conserve their "distinct language, script or culture", and the very just provision of Article 30 recognizing their right to "establish and administer educational institutions of their choice". Yet they remain educationally backward and are economically lagging far behind the others. The reason behind their continuing all-round backwardness lies to a large extent in the non-implementation of all these provisions of the Constitution in their letter and spirit by the successive rulers of the State.

In my childhood my hometown in eastern UP, like many other cities in the State, had no college; for the college-level education I had to leave home. And the State had just five universities - the Hindu and Muslim Universities of Banaras and Aligarh respectively, those of Lucknow and Allahabad, and the federative Agra University which affiliated all degree colleges elsewhere in the State. Today my hometown has many colleges, and the State is virtually inundated with universities established in the cities which half a century ago could not have been imagined as seats of higher learning - Faizabad, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Jhansi, Meerut and Bareilly among them. There are in many cities of UP also universities of agriculture, engineering and technology as also a number of medical colleges. The Muslim presence in all these universities and colleges of UP however remains far below their population in the State and is in many cases microscopic, or even nil. This sorry state of affairs has been perpetuated in UP, as also in many other parts of the country, in the name of secularism - wholly forgetting that secularism was adopted to do justice, not injustice, to the minorities. While the executive organ of the State has been so misconstruing the ideal of secularism, the judiciary on its part has been busy ensuring a respectable presence of the majority community in the minority institutions. No government and no court has ever bothered about the near, often total, absence of the minorities in the State-run educational institutions.

If ever some noble souls rise up to do something for the educational development of the Muslims, all sorts of hurdles are created on their way. Asking for minority status for a proposed or existing school or college is viewed with great suspicions. For the politicians it amounts to begging for a very special undue favour; in the eyes of the office babus nothing short of a misdemeanour. Very rarely are hurdles cleared for a higher institution to be set up by the Muslims. Encouraged by the trends in the South, a few years ago a group of Muslim philanthropists succeeded in starting a medical college in Lucknow. And now a Muslim technological institute has been given the status of a university (called the 'Integral University') by means of a special Act. Most definitely no favour has been done to the Muslims in either case. They have just exercised their Constitutional right ; and those in the government or bureaucracy who have helped them have simply performed a legal obligation by conceding what is fully due to them under the clear provisions of the Constitution. What has been done in these cases is not only perfectly legal but eminently enforces Constitutional justice. What is absolutely un-Constitutional is the unnecessary opposition of these happy developments by certain political parties who take pleasure in denying to the minorities all their rightful claims. Their scant regard for the Constitution is of course well known and need not disappoint the community or its well-wishers in any government.

That the medical college and the engineering university established in Lucknow by the Muslims can reserve 50% of their intake for their own community's students is not a favour extended to the Muslims by this or that politician through this or that law. This is the norm, right or wrong, set by the Supreme Court of India for all minority institutions and would also apply to the two institutions in Lucknow, whether their special statutes provide for it or not. What is to be clearly understood everywhere is that the other 50% of the intake in the minority institutions has, as per the Supreme Court ruling, to be filled purely by merit. In other words, there is no room in this scheme for any reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes -- and by all standards it is only just and reasonable. Moreover, the merit of those Muslim students who compete with the others against the open seats and get in on their own is not to be derecognized by accommodating them against the reserved 50%; they must be admitted under the unreserved "merit" quota and shall not be counted towards the reserved seats all of which have to be filled by Muslim students irrespective of merit.

The attitude of those in the government who facilitated the establishment of these Muslim institutions of higher learning in UP must be appreciated and duly emulated elsewhere. This is what the Muslims of India need; not any special school-timings on Fridays which the UP Muslims were offered but rightly rejected straight away as a misconceived political move.

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