The project launched by the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Vice Chancellor to establish Special Centres in five places in the country has been widely publicized and the progress made by proposed Centres in Murshidabad & Mallapuram has been highlighted by the VC who plans to start MBA and LLB courses in these places with effect from the current academic year.
The VC had informed the AMU Court that the Academic Council had setup a Committee with Prof. Jawed Akhtar as Convener to prepare a comprehensive Action Plan, to be further discussed by the Academic Council, the Executive Council and subsequently by the University Court. It is understood that both the Academic Council and the Executive Council have okayed the project in principle. It has also been reported in the press that the President of India, acting as Visitor of the AMU, has approved the project.
The project springs from Section 5(2) (c) of the AMU Act as amended upto 1981 which defines the power of the university and includes ‘to promote educational & cultural advancement of the Muslims of India’. The country is aware that the Muslims are educationally backward and the best estimates indicate that the proportion of Muslims in university enrolment is 4-5 % against 15 % in the national population. So, in whatever manner, the AMU can promote the cause of higher education in the Muslim community should be welcomed.
Since the University already has nearly 15,000 students(excluding school students), it is not possible for the AMU to meet the rising demand for higher education in the Muslim community within its existing campus. At present the AMU caters to a very small proportion of the Muslim university students in the country and a vast majority is finding its way into both government and private colleges and universities, established throughout the country.
‘Legality’ of Special Centres
The question arises whether the AMU can establish external campuses Section 12(1) of AMU Act 1981 bars the university from establishing & maintaining High schools, and implicitly colleges, outside a radius of fifteen miles from the University Mosque. It cannot be argued that the bar does not apply to the establishment of colleges! However, Sub-Section 9(a) of section 5 of the University Act, 1981, empowers the university to establish within the radius of twenty five kilometers of the University Mosque Special Centres, Specialized Laboratories & other units for research and instruction. Further section 19(h) of the Statutes of the University empowers the Academic Council to make proposals to the Executive Council for ‘the establishment of colleges, departments, institution of research & specialized studies, Special Centres, Libraries, Laboratories & Museum’.
The moot point is whether Special Centres or Institution for Research or Specialized Laboratories can be equated with a College or a Department.
To clarify this, what is relevant is the title of the original Act which defines the purpose to incorporate University. It speaks of ‘a teaching & residential Muslim University at Aligarh’. This is repeated in the long title as well. Colleges and Departments in any place other than Aligarh shall violate both aspects, namely, residential character & location.
The Act was amended in 1981 to redefine the University in sect 2(L) as ‘the educational institution of their choice established by the Muslim of India, which originated as the MAO College, Aligarh, and which was subsequently incorporated as the Aligarh Muslim University’. Though widely a acclaimed as having restored the minority character of the AMU, it did not do so, as it did not nullify the existing Supreme Court judgment in the Aziz Pasha case which ruled(in my view erroneously) that the AMU was ‘established’ not by the Muslims of India but by an Act of legislature. But this judgment holds the ground and has been further strengthened by the judgment of the Allahabad High Court which questioned reservation in favor of Muslims in admission to the Medical College. The entire case is pending before the Supreme Court . If the Supreme Court reaffirms the Aziz Pasha judgment, the only option available, which was also available in 1981 is to amend the definition by clearly stipulating that notwithstanding any judgment or judicial observation, the AMU is a minority educational institution under Article 30(1) of the Constitution.
Assuming that either by judicial verdict or amendment of the Act, the minority character of the University is fully restored, the next step will be to expand the capacity of the University to admit more Muslim students to the maximum possible. This can be done in many ways by amending the Act & Statutes.
1. To introduce correspondence courses and establish learning centres at various points of the country for the benefit of those admitted to these as many other universities have done.
2. To affiliate Muslim minority colleges all over the country which find it difficult to secure recognition by or affiliation to local universities.
3. To establish a AMU Board for Secondary Education to which eligible Muslim Secondary or Higher Secondary Schools may be affiliated.
4. To introduce a Scheme of Admission, as proposed few years ago by a committee headed by Dr. Mumtaz Ahmed Khan, of which I was also a member, under which it may give weightage to Muslim students from distant states or places more than 200 Km away from Aligarh for entering the University, which is no longer a national institution but a regional institution with students predominantly from a few districts of UP and Bihar.
These are the obvious ways for the AMU to fulfill its responsibility to promote Muslim education. Thus, without from opening Special Centres or establishing additional campus, the University can play a positive role in promoting educational advancement of the Muslims Section 5(2)(c). This object cannot be achieved by opening Special Centres to teach a few courses which will create many administrative & academic problems, even if it becomes legally feasible, to create and manage an educational empire! How can a few Special Centres change the educational landscape of the community?
Academic and Other Difficulties
Firstly, admission to these Special Centres can enjoy reservation for minorities & thus become worthwhile for the local Muslims, if and only if the AMU itself regains its minority character fully. Such Centres may be struck down by the judiciary, if Muslim applicants for these Centres are admitted separately. If they are through a combined test, it may be very difficult for them to decide whether to go to Aligarh or study in the local centre.
Secondly, to manage administration & teaching at a distance from the mother university, the financial burden will far exceed the cost of developing & raising local institutions.
Thirdly, educationally backward areas will not throw up enough eligible and qualified candidates, to compete on equal terms. More over places like Mallapuram have a large number of advanced educational institutions & therefore the AMU Special Centre shall take in those who are unable to secure admission in well-established existing colleges.
The whole idea of a centralized university with independent campuses, scattered throughout the country will generate academic anarchy & financial burden.
Several places in India like Azamgarh, Meerut, Bhopal, Mumbai, Gulbarga, Hyderabad, Mallapuram, Chennai have large number of well developed educational institutions not only for general but for professional education. In pursuance of its responsibility under Section 5(2)(c) the AMU may offer its academic expertise and technical assistance to promote the development of these Muslim Colleges into universities, in particular, the Anjuman Islam, Mumbai, which has nearly 1,00,000 students on its roll. They can first become private universities and deemed universities, through UGC and government recognition, followed by legislation by state legislatures to become statutory universities.
Already, the Muslim community in various states is establishing its own universities, for example it has established the Integral University in Lucknow. So has B.S. A Rahman Technical University in Chennai, the Anjuman Islam University may soon come up in Mumbai,Or Shible College in Azamgarh or the educational complex in Gulbarga or Muslim technical colleges in Hyderabad may develop into universities.
The same objective can also be achieved by the community establishing more minority educational institutions wherever possible, receiving academic support from the AMU in the early stages as well as a guarantee of equal access to higher or post graduate education in the AMU.
There is a surge for education throughout the country in the Muslim community. But it needs a sense of direction as well as academic & financial support. The idea of establishing one or two isolated departments without any local feeders is not likely to produce substantial results or meet the demand. This surge should not get lost in dead ends or adopting controversial methods.
Further, a section of the AMU community is totally opposed to the University discarding its residential character while it favours the induction of good Muslim students from all over the country.
The AMU authorities should therefore change their strategy and give priority to
1. Restoration of its minority status by judicial verdict and, alternatively, by legislative act.
2. Amendment to the AMU Act to empower the University to affiliate Muslim general and technical colleges throughout the country.
3. Establishment of a Board of Secondary Education to affiliate Muslim secondary and higher secondary schools particularly from Muslim concentration areas and to conduct common admission test.
4. Encouragement & support to local Muslim communities or groups of existing individual colleges to develop into universities such as in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Gulbarga, which may later obtain university status by legislation.
Indeed, the AMU, instead of taking a solitary initiative, should launch the New Aligarh Movement which should bring together all Muslim non-political organizations & institutions to encourage & nurse the educational surge in areas of their influence. Already in many places there is a move to establish Muslim universities on wakf land. Also, may philanthropists have come forward to finance colleges & universities. Time has come to spread the network of school & higher education in the Muslim community. Let them establish many primary schools, secondary and higher secondary schools and colleges & universities.
One last word, educational development finally depends on universalization of primary education. The community should, on one hand, press the state to open more general schools in Muslim areas and ensure the access of its children to the benefits of Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan. On the other hand, it should invest its own surplus resources to develop schools & colleges of quality. It is those schools & colleges, government and private, which shall feed & nurse the universities and maintain the surge.
---Syed Shahabuddin is President, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), and former IFS and Member of Parliament