Mr Minister! Jamia is Our Offspring

Ignoring the historical facts about AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia and depriving them of their minority character is in my opinion more damaging than demolishing historical mosques or idly witnessing their demolition.

On this last Sunday of May 2010, I am holding in my hands the English daily Hindustan Times which I am addicted to read every morning since my boyhood days. A headline on the front page reads: ‘Spar between ministers over Jamia’s minority character.’ The story says that the Union Minority Affairs Ministry has advocated minority character for Jamia Millia Islamia which the HRD Ministry is vehemently opposed to. It further says that the Minority Affairs Minister, expressing displeasure on the disclosure of these differences, said that the Prime Minister would be the judge and added that ‘I will win.’ My next fortnightly article for the Rashtriya Sahara was ready but the news in the Hindustan Times prompted me to defer it at the last moment and to express my views on this matter on priority.

The irony we face in this country is that evidence is demanded also for what is quite conspicuous. Official confirmation was required even for an extremely heinous crime committed — thanks to television — in full view of millions of people all over the world, and to furnish it a learned judge took 17 long years. Ignoring the historical facts about AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia and depriving them of their minority character is in my opinion more damaging than demolishing historical mosques or idly witnessing their demolition. Who had established the AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia, under what circumstances, with how strenuous efforts, and for whom, answers to these questions are irrefutable part of the history of this country. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan toiled away to lift his co-religionists from the lowest ebb of educational backwardness, with a begging bowl in his hand travelled throughout the country, braved for months together hazards of sailing to far off London to determine directions of his educational mission, killed his self respect to bear tantrums of foreign rulers, became a victim of non-stop vituperation by his own people, digested continuous taunting by Akbar Allahabadi, faced a fatwa of kufr (heresy) procured from the Hijaz, nurtured the upcoming Madrasat-ul-Uloom buildings with his old-age sweat, then at last came into existence the institution which the world knows today as the Aligarh Muslim University. Who were Sir Syed’s comrades-in-arms in this crusade supporting him financially and by words and deeds? Mohsinul Mulk, Wiqarul Mulk, Shibli Nomani; Altaf Husain Hali, the Nawab of Rampur, the Begums of Bhopal state, who else? And, for whom was this palatial edifice of education built? Obviously not for those fellow countrymen who neither sufferred from educational backwardness nor lacked in material resources, but for those hard-working elders’ own community that was totally lacking in worldly comforts and to see whose children holding the Quran in one hand and science in the other Sir Syed laid this garden of learning.  And, what does the word ‘Muslim’ in the nomenclature of the institution indicate, what do the engraved arches and ramparts of AMU speak of? Why is a Qur’anic verse printed on top of the University degrees? Is there an iota of scope for denying that it were the elders of the present-day Muslim minority who had sweated blood to establish this institution and left it behind as their heritage for brightening the community’s future?.

And, what is the Jamia Millia Islamia – an offshoot of Aligarh’s temple of learning to plan whose establishment a great Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jauhar convened meetings with like-minded people in a dingy room of Aligarh’s "Kachchi Barik," hostel whose Foundation Committee included eminent religious scholars like Mufti Kifayatullah, Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, Shabbir Ahmad Usmani and Husain Ahmad Madni, which was inaugurated by Maulana Mahmud Hasan of Deoband, which was later shifted to Delhi and placed in the care of Hakim Ajmal Khan, to keep which alive Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari and a number of nationalist Muslims made strenuous efforts, to serve which on returning home three brilliant youth of the community then studying in Germany together – Zakir Husain, Muhammad Mujeeb and Aabid Husain -- committed their lives sacrificing a bright future otherwise awaiting them, where Urdu was adopted as the language of teaching and administration, where vice-chancellor was designated as ‘Shaikh-ul-Jamia’ and registrar as ‘Musajjil,’ for such an institution one needs to be told as to who established it, why, and for whom?

Why Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, the first architect of independent India Jawaharlal Nehru, and the right-hand man of both Maulana Azad, had not acceded to the communalists’ demand made during the dreadful post-partition days to delete the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islamia’ from the names of AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia? Why the leaders of the community had rejected the offer made by the communalist lobby when communal politicians proposed that the AMU campus be exchanged with the DAV College of Lahore, why had these elders of the nation outrightly rejected the proposal – obviously since these great leaders were history-conversant, reality-conscious, champions of justice and far-sighted. Fully recognizing that both these institutions had been established for the Muslim citizens by their ancestors, and knowing well that in a democracy it often becomes difficult for the minorities to remain educationally at par with the majority, they never wanted to deprive the community of this precious ancestral heritage.

When over two years after independence a National Constitution for free India came in force, it unconditionally guaranteed to all religious and linguistic minorities a fundamental right to establish and run their own educational institutions and strictly prohibited any discrimination by the government against such institutions in matters of financial aid, etc. Obviously, it neither did nor could mean that a minority will be entitled to establish its own institutions in the future but will have no rights over the pre-existing institutions established by its ancestors and that such latter institutions shall be deemed to be excluded from the purview of this constitutional guarantee. In the first place such an interpretation of the Constitution shall be extremely absurd and ridiculous, and then internal evidence against such an interpretation is found in the Constitution itself. The name of Aligarh Muslim University in itself reveals the history and reality as to who had established it and for whom, and yet, it was mentioned with this very particular name in the Constitution at its inception and no change has ever been made in it.

In fact, the Constitution did not ‘grant. to the minorities any new right to establish their institutions; it just affirmed this right which was recognized even earlier both in the country and under international human rights law; and minority institutions established before independence cannot be excluded from the scope of this affirmation. .

I have always endeavoured, both in my personal and all official capacities, to elucidate these historical facts and constitutional realities and emphasized that both AMU and Jamia are definitely minority institutions and cannot be deprived of such character. The recent report of Ranganath Mishra Commission, prepared by me, has also strongly recommended that by means of specific Parliamentary legislation both these institutions should be entrusted with specific and unrestricted responsibility of fulfilling educational needs of the Muslim minority, since I am convinced that this is the demand of justice.

If the Hindustan Times report forming the basis of my submissions is accurate the Minority Affairs Minister has certainly served the cause of constitutional justice by raising his voice in favour of the minority character of Jamia Millia Islamia, for which he deserves appreciation and greetings. And, if the news report is also true that the HRD Minister is opposed to recognizing the minority character of Jamia Millia Islamia, I would like to submit to him with due deference that Jamia Millia Islamia was conceived and nurtured by our ancestors and is the apple of our eye on which we have a historical and constitutional right -- negating its minority character is tantamount to losing sight of historical facts and ignoring demands of constitutional justice. (Translated from Urdu)

*Prof. Tahir Mahmood, Chairman, Amity University Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, is a former Chairman of National Minorities Commission & Member, Law Commission of India

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2010 on page no. 1

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