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Published in the 1-15 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

ISSUES

Muslims caught in a vice

By Saiyid Hamid

The Milli Gazette Online

Some notices in the press about the recent revamping of its admission policy by the Aligarh Muslim University provide an object lesson on how superficial and unsympathetic journalism can become and how easily it is influenced by shibboleths. It is common knowledge that during the last 25 years the nation has awakened to the slide-back in the condition of Indian Muslims. A section of the Indian society, however, has tried to veil this grim fact by raising the unfounded and cruel slogan that Muslims are being appeased by Government. Saying "appeasement" and meaning "emasculation" is a semantic feat. 

A number of surveys conducted by NGOs have revealed that Indian Muslims have been going down-hill. Their status is further endorsed by the latest Census which has confirmed the worst apprehension of those concerned about the backwardness of the largest minority in the country. The impression is deepened by the findings of the latest round of N.S.S. The comparative studies on the condition of the major communities conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research have further underscored the deplorable inability, given the present conditions, of Indian Muslims to compete with their countrymen. It is essentially in this context that the Prime Minister has recently set up a High Level Committee to determine the educational, social and economic status of Indian Muslims. 

The fact that the Indian Muslims have been unable to keep pace with the development of our country and to benefit adequately from the fruits of development is a matter of concern not only for Muslims but for all those who have the country’s good at heart. It is therefore painful to learn that a section of Indian society has started a campaign against the revamping of admission policy by the University bodies, including of course the Academic Council and the Executive Council. Reservation of 50% seats for Muslims which falls in line not only with the objectives of the founders of M.A.O. College but also with the recently felt need of dragging out Muslims from the morass of backwardness. 

It is curious that the extreme right and a section of left are locked in a bear hug on this issue. It is not long ago that NDA Government, whose major partner was the BJP, accorded minority status to the Jamia Hamdard authorizing it to reserve 50% of its seats for Muslims. In fact the NDA Government was prepared to accord the same status to AMU provided one of the conditions laid down by it were fulfilled. The brouhaha raised by the forces of Hindutva at what they had missed doing while in power has heavy political undertones.

It emerges from what has been stated above that the Muslim community, because it has lagged behind, requires special steps to be taken so that it can join with confidence the national mainstream of progress, and cease to be a drag on the country’s pace of development. The present writer has been struggling for the last three decades in various capacities to brush up Muslim candidates for the Civil Services. But, except for sporadic successes, the percentage of Muslim candidates making the grade in the Civil Services Examination conducted by U.P.S.C. has ranged between 2.5% to 3.5% as against its share of 13% in population. Their share in the States services and in subordinate services has been equally pathetic. The inference is obvious, and no well-wisher of the country and of the community should close his eyes to it, that the community desperately needs assistance on a consistent basis. 

It stands to reason that for a community whose share in government jobs and public sector undertakings is pitiably small, avenues of enlightenment and empowerment should be kept wide open. Muslims should be encouraged to compete for and join professional courses in large numbers. It is conceded that a few of professional institutions have been established by minorities on capitation fee basis, particularly in South India. But access to them is conditioned by affluence of candidates, and the bright students with meagre resources do not stand a chance. By fixing a 50% quota for Muslim candidates the University authorities have taken an egalitarian step due to which the weaker sections among the minority community from all over the country would have a fair chance of joining the professional stream. This incidentally would restore the All India character of the University which has over the last about 50 years shrunk into that of a university catering primarily to the needs of the residents of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. 

The widening of the scope and benefits of the university conforming to the design of its founder on the one hand and the current democratic and egalitarian trend on the other is a step in the right direction. One would have expected that there would be a chorus of sympathy and encouraging noises from all sections of the people to greet a step designed to end the backwardness of a minority and that suggestions would emerge emphasizing the need for increasing the capacity of the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Dr. Zakir Hussain Engineering College of Aligarh Muslim University. It is indeed astonishing that a minor corrective step by the bodies of an autonomous institution of higher learning has evoked intense opposition from one group on the pretext of dilution of character and standards and by another group intent on rubbing off saffron.

It is also noteworthy that the University bodies, with the concurrence of the Vice Chancellor, have drastically curtailed the nomination quota of the latter from 20% to 5% wherein the intention seems to be to help sportsmen.

Reaction from two diametrically opposed groups indicates that Indian Muslims are caught in a vice. They stand deprived of a proportionate share in government jobs. Their efforts to secure admission in the professional colleges is stymied on the phoney ground that these smack of communalism.

It is intriguing to note how vulnerable our intellectuals have become to the tyranny of words. Expressions like communalism, insulation, ghettoizing are uttered without going into the merits of any decision. These labels prevent an objective examination of the issue under consideration and start by creating a bias against it.

It is indeed a pity that anything uttered against the Aligarh Muslim University finds unthinking acceptance. Isn’t it a travesty of design that an institution set up to promote inter-communal harmony is being faulted on the ground that its effort to secure proper representation for Muslims is being dubbed as communalism. The community should be allowed to spread out, to be represented in the professions and to be given the exhilarating feeling of participating in the development of their country. We may also take into account the fact that nothing should be done in the country at large which might compromise the autonomy of the University and call in question the decision legitimately taken after due deliberation by University bodies.

A former VC of AMU, Saiyid Hamid is currently the chancellor of Jamia Hamdard. He may be contacted at secretaryhes@vsnl.net «

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