Minority Report

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It’s been over three years since the university was declared a minority institution. while it means more seats for Muslims, they are losing out on holistic education and good job placements

By Meha Mathur


 

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is a tag which comes with pros and cons. In early 2011, when the National Commission for Minorities Educa-tional Institutions (NCMEI) declared Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi as a minority institution, there was euphoria in the student and teacher community. It meant that the university would, henceforth, enjoy a unique dual status—as a minority institution and a central university.

The university got the status after a long-drawn struggle. Since 2006, the Jamia Students Union, Jamia Old Boys Association and Jamia Teachers Association filed petitions seeking minority status. Passing the judgment, the chairman of the commission, Justice MSA Siddiqui, said: “We have no hesitation in holding that Jamia was founded by Muslims for the benefit of Muslims and it never lost its identity as a Muslim minority educational institution.”

UGC FUNDING

However, this judgment was challenged in Delhi High Court (HC) on several counts: that the university was not started with the mandate of being a minority institution and that the new status violates its secular character. Another argument was that it receives heavy funding from the University Grants Commission. How can it then ask for minority status? But the HC dismissed these petitions in September 2011. 

Jamia’s minority status meant that 50 percent of seats would be reserved for Muslim students and the university was no more under obligation to reserve seats for SC/ST and OBCs. Jamia, naturally, saw it as a means of furthering education for the Muslim community. Najeeb Jung, then vice-chancellor of Jamia, wrote in the in-house publication, Jauhar, about the NCMEI judgment: “Notwithstanding the fact that the founding fathers of the University were largely Muslims with considerable concern for Muslim education, the student population has always been a mix of all communities, with Muslim students’ percentage hovering a little over 50 percent.” He added that by declaring the university as a minority institution, the Commission had put a legal stamp on what already existed.

The judgment did not consider the uni-que multi-religious, multi-cultural ethos that Jamia had evolved into. Sadly, few know of Jamia’s origin at the height of the independence struggle in 1920, and its secular ethos, which was maintained all through. Unfor-tunately, the minority tag will dilute this and reinforce perceptions about an institution. This will be contrary to its basic character and damage those studying there.

NATIONALIST ORIGINS

So, what is the genesis of Jamia? In the heady days of the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements, when Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalist leaders urged countrymen to boycott British goods and institutions, the Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO College, now Aligarh Muslim University), was highly inclined to accept British assistance in running the college. On October 12 and 13, 1920, Gandhi and Khilafat leader Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar addressed a large gathering in MOA College, urging them not to accept government funding. They were largely jeered.

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But a small group of teachers and students, among them a young Zakir Husain, picked up the cause. Threatened by authorities, this group walked out of the college, and started Jamia from makeshift camps in Aligarh. Hakim Ajmal Khan was the chancellor, and Mohammad Ali, its vice-chancellor. While Gandhi was never formally part of the nascent institution’s pre-dominantly Muslim governing body, he always assisted it during its initial hardship. Jamnalal Bajaj, Gandhi’s son Devdas Gandhi and Mahadev Desai too became associated with the university.

The founding fathers were clear about the character of the institution. Mohammad Ali, in his writings in Hamdard, stated that as a “millia”, it was a group of followers of a faith and as “Islamia,” it taught Islam. “It must be noted, however, that its doors are open to followers of all religious. It does not restrict itself to teaching only religious matters, as is the case with Deoband and Madarsa Niza-mia,” he said.

Mushirul Hassan, in his book, Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia, describes how dozens of Hindu students from Assam, Bengal and Punjab flocked to Jamia attracted by its heterogenous mix. He quotes a student, Rana Jung Bahadur, as saying: “Hindustan ki pyasi jawani ka jamia ke panghat pe mela lag gaya tha (the thirsty youth of Hindustan flocked to the fount of Jamia).”
And during the tumultuous days of partition, the then vice-chancellor, Dr Zakir Husain, and his colleagues, took it upon themselves to provide succor to Hindu families who had been victims of violence, and “adopted” a few Hindu boys who had been orphaned or maimed, taking up the responsibility of their education and upbringing. In the post-Independence era too, the institution stuck to puritan Gandhian ideas of education, emphasizing learning by doing, and going to the extent of shunning government aid for many years.

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Jamia imparts state-of-the-art education in sciences, too.

INCLUSIVE EDUCATION

Declared a university in 1988, Jamia has played an important role in bringing together Muslim and non-Muslim youth from deprived backgrounds within the ambit of education. Many are first-generation learners from small qasbas and villages and children of farmers and carpenters.

The university has, therefore, fanned many small-town dreams and this writer has had the unique opportunity to interact with alarge number of them during the course of her work in the last five years. Take Asma Naseem, from a small village in Baghpat district in UP. Her father, desirous of the best education for his child, shifted to Delhi when she was four and got her educated in Jamia School and College. His efforts paid off as Naseem won an MSc gold medal in biosciences. She, then, did her PhD, and is now pursuing post-doctorate studies at the Inter-national Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Italy. 

Ikramul Haq is another bright student to join Jamia. He studied at Madrasatul-Islah, a madarsa in Azamgarh, and at Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow. He had enrolled for BA (Hons) History at Jamia and could amaze one with his fluent English and his clarity of thought, which far exceeds that of metropolitan kids. Samreen Jahaan is the only girl student in the entire batch of mechanical engineering at Jamia Polytechnic and says her family is fine with it, while Fatima from Mewat went against her family’s wishes to study geography at Jamia. Anupama Kumari from Sindri, Dhanbad, was so focused in her studies that she first did her masters in fine art from Jamia, and then, went for a year’s scholarship to Paris.

The university, on its part, has widened its ambit and improved its infrastructure in both research and job-oriented disciplines, like nanotechnology, biotechnology, theoretical physics, dentistry, management, law, media, international studies and foreign languages. International collaborations have helped it send students and faculty for research work and seminars abroad.

MISCONCEPTIONS GALORE

Much of this is largely unknown to the outside world, though the university is located in the heart of the capital. Historian Mukul Kesavan, a faculty with the history department, writes in Jauhar: “When people think about Jamia, they conjure up a ‘Muslim’ institution that lives on Delhi’s margins….A cousin of mine from Jaipur commissioned me to buy her some ittar, my mother instructed me to enroll her in Jamia’s wonderful Urdu correspondence course and well-meaning friends asked how I distinguished one girl student from another…”

And now with the minority status, there are apprehensions that things will only get more difficult. Veteran journalist Kuldeep Nayyar wrote in The Sunday Guardian: “I am afraid that Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) may lose its halo now that it has been declared a minority institution. The word ‘Islamia’ gave JMI a special link with Muslims. There was no need to do anything else to reaffirm that connection.…the message…that the ethos of composite culture of the institution has changed will hurt the reputation of JMI.”

There are dissenting voices in the university too. On condition of anonymity, faculty members say that the change is perceptible on two fronts: the composition of the university and job recruitments. It’s not just 50 percent seats that are reserved for Muslims. A large number of general category seats too are taken up by Muslim candidates, based on merit during the entrance exam. But this has got a Muslim faculty member worried as according to him the university has never had such a large proportion of Muslims in its classes. This means lesser opportunities for Muslim students to mingle with other communities and ghettoization.

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Jamia also imparts various skills that help students get employment

This change is perceptible during classroom interactions, says a faculty member. “Students are not getting a chance to know other viewpoints, limiting their ability to listen to other perspectives. For every problem, including the Islamic State’s atrocities, America is to blame.” Jamia is also going for recruitments and promotions of faculty members on the basis of its minority status. At the executive council meeting held in June 2014, recruitment of teaching and non-teaching positions in accordance with its minority status, was approved.

An old-time Jamia faculty and a writer of great repute says that the word “minority” has all the wrong connotations. “However hard we try to assure people, for them, minority means Muslims.” The result, he says, is that bright students are shying away from Jamia as they feel that if they mention that they had studied in a Muslim minority institution at the time of a job interview, it will go against them.

A few headhunters, however, denied that the minority status had any bearing on recruitments. Dony Kuriakose, director of Edge Executive Search Pvt Ltd, says that what matters is the performance of a candidate. “We look at overall marks and the track record of the students, and Jamia has done a pretty good job of producing excellent students… None of our clients are asking these questions.”

The annual report posted on the placement cell of Jamia, shows otherwise: “More than 105 companies raised 475 offers to the students of our university” in 2011-12. However, it was more during 2010-11, when more than 140 companies raised 610 offers to the students,” it said. Though the figures for 2012-13 have not been uploaded, a member of the engineering faculty informed it was rather disappointing.

Rehan Khan Suri, training and placement officer, says too much should not read into these figures. “What companies are looking at is quality of research, environment and values inculcated. They want to make their workplace more diverse. And we have got good feedback about our students—that they are disciplined and have the right values.” ­

He says that over the last three years, placements have decreased due to a bad phase in the economy. Also, because Jamia has its own entrance test, recruiters are unable to evaluate its quality vis-à-vis other exams, such as CAT and IITJEE.
So while Jamia fought to acquire a minority status, it’s obviously not going to be beneficial in the long run. Fostering a multi-religious, multi-cultural atmosphere is what will eventually benefit its students.

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