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Published in the 16-30 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT

AMU reservations

Campaign against merit-based admission policy

By Iqbal A. Ansari

The Milli Gazette Online 

There has been an ill-informed vilification campaign against the present merit-based admission policy that the AMU has adopted as anti-secular, which distorts historical and present-day realities. It is an undeniable historical fact that the MAO College and its successor Aligarh Muslim University owed their existence to the urge of Muslims led by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan for the promotion of modern education in the community. Believing in the fraternal relations between the Hindus and Muslims, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan sought the help of Hindu friends in the venture and welcomed Hindu students in the institution, but the fact remains that in numerical, socio-cultural and administrative terms the college and subsequently the university have all along been a Muslim institution, mainly, though not exclusively, serving the Muslim community. Recognizing this communitarian tradition of the AMU as not inconsistent with a secular state, acceptance and continuity of its Muslim character was ensured by the founding fathers of the Republic under policy measures and conventions for the appointment of Vice-Chancellor, and the predominant Muslim composition of the University bodies and authorities. A jarring note was struck by MC Chagla in 1965 under the extreme stress of circumstances, which did not lead to any shift in the basic policy framework. 

However, from 1950s the university gradually faced the problem of large number of non-Muslim applicants, especially for admission to professional courses. Realizing that without any special measures, it would not be possible to ensure sizable Muslim percentage of students, recourse was taken to allocating 75% seats to ‘internal students’, which was later reduced to 50%. This was a backdoor method of ensuring ‘communal / communitarian’ Muslim majority which enjoyed the support of the successive governments as well as of ‘secular’ and ‘progressive’ sections in the University. 

This classification of applicants as internal and external made the university refuse admission to far superior external students, both Muslim as well as non-Muslim, who could not afford to have their education from earlier stage in the University – thus adversely affecting university’s academic standards. The formula of ‘internal-external’ did not in any case ensure the desired sizable percentage of Muslim students either, as increasing number of non-Muslim ‘internal’ students elbowed out Muslim ‘internals’. 

Alternative to this irrational admission policy, which failed to protect both academic excellence and legitimate interests of Muslims, and which provided undeserved protection to university schools and which discouraged meritorious boys and girls of poorer sections of distant regions, was available to the university under its Act 1981 in the form of preferential admission of Muslims on the basis of All India merit within the community as sanctioned by Constitution and law, especially after the St. Stephen’s College judgment of 1991 which explicitly accepted the necessity of such preferential admission. It needs to be kept in view that the AMU (Amendment) Act 1981 defines the University as an institution of “their choice” established by Muslims of India to especially promote their educational and cultural advancement. 

Now after Supreme Court judgment in TMA Pai Foundation Vs State of Karnataka case the University is required to transparently admit Muslim students on the basis of merit within the community without any rigid ceiling, in accordance with the needs of the community. 

If the university had not taken this belated step of merit-based admission of Muslims, those external candidates, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who would have been denied admission in spite of their higher ranking in respective lists, would have gone to the Court to get the unethical, un-academic, and pro-rich internal – external quota system annulled. Unfortunately those sections on the University campus, and sections of media and political parties who are opposing all-India merit based admission of Muslims and non-Muslims would prefer to have backdoor anti-academic communal admission policy to continue in the name of secularism, even if the objective is to ensure Muslim majority among students. They are not basing their case on individual citizen’s absolute right to non-discrimination, under classical liberal-secular democratic norms (disregarding all human rights norms of special measures for collective rights of disadvantaged groups). 

  1. The critics of the new policy think that the new ‘communal’ admission policy is contrary to the ‘non-communal’ tradition of 140 years of the history of the University, ignoring the specific historical-sociological-political situations at various stages of this long period. In any case during the entire period the institution has continued to have Muslim character. In pre-1947 period there was no need of any special measure for maintaining Muslim numerical majority.

  2. Their understanding of Section 8 of the AMU Act which says that the University shall be open to all persons irrespective of race, religion and creed etc. is not correct. The University will still not bar admission to non-Muslims only on the basis of religion. This clause does not prevent the university to adopt any special measures on the basis of valid classification of citizens as the Indian State is empowered by the Constitution to take special measure, including reservations for SC, ST, OBCs, women and children and weaker sections. 

  3. It is not correct to say that the Supreme Court judgment restricts reservations to 50%. It rather removes rigid ceiling of 50%. Reservations far beyond 50% are sanctioned by law as interpreted in TMA Pai case, which has been further clarified by the judgment in Islamic Academy of Education Vs State of Karnataka case. 

  4. Muslims being socially and educationally backward, they need to be admitted transparently and on the basis of their relative merit far more than 50%, which will help them in their modernization and human development, thus leading to their better integration in the larger Indian society. 

  5. The fear that the new policy will devalue University degrees is not based on awareness of the real situations regarding admissions. The worth of the degrees at A.M U. has been devalued by internal-external admission system which has caused extreme inbreeding.

  6. The AMU like any other University is subject to writ jurisdiction of higher judiciary, which will be finally decided in the light of TMA Pai case judgment, which removes rigid ceiling of 50% that was put under St. Stephen’s judgment. It is anti-merit backdoor management of Muslim majority that Padma awardees on the campus and ‘secularists’ would like to continue, which will be struck down by the court of law even if it is erroneously held that AMU is not a minority institution.«

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