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Debating Islam ( 27 Feb 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Jamia Millia Islamia: Do not perpetuate the politics of Minorityism

Posted below is a statement of Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Association, signed by several teachers of the University on the issue of minority status to Jamia. This was released in Feb 2010 and questioned the dominant discourse being put forth. The statement raises several issues about the demand for minority status--all of which have been left unaddressed by the votaries of the minority status. These questions remain relevant, indeed need to be responded to even more urgently now. 

Jamia Millia Islamia and Minority Status: Unresolved issues

The moot question facing us today in Jamia is how to best ensure Muslim representation in our institution. This sentiment is entirely legitimate given the fact that Muslims lag behind in higher education, as established by the Sachar Committee Report. The debate remains whether minority status for Jamia is the best recourse to realize this. The crucial thing to discuss is if minority interests will be served better by granting minority status or by retaining Jamia as its founders visualized—that is, a university that will have a stake in the national mainstream. Jamia was envisaged as a space of higher learning and critical thinking against the insularity and isolationism of all kinds. The demand for minority status vitiates that glorious history of Jamia as a secular inclusive space.

Over the years, Jamia has emerged as a centre for academic excellence, thus enhancing the value of the university’s degrees, and making our students genuinely competitive once they pass out from here. The tag of minority status will deprive them of this edge and render them unfit for wider market and opportunities. If there is a diverse student population in Jamia, it is because Jamia’s stature has grown in stature to be able to attract a larger pool of talent. If today, we turn inwards, the worst sufferers will be our Muslim students. In the current scenario, where Muslim youth already stand stigmatized and suspect, degree from a ‘minority’ institution will mar, rather than enhance their chances of success in life and career. Jamia has the potential to emerge as an indisputable centre of cultural engagement between different communities—as indeed its founders envisioned —and as it has emerged over the years. A turn towards ‘minority’ status will rob it of its historical role in bridging the cultural gap between communities and its vanguard role in breaking stereotypical assumptions about Muslims.  

Rather than isolationism, accepting OBC reservations will lead to manifold increase in the resources and infrastructure as well as expansion in the intake of students and teaching positions. The increase in the number of seats will ultimately benefit students from the minority community. Furthermore, the OBC issue has emerged out of a democratic churning and we can ill afford to retreat in our shell, aloof from forging solidarities with the democratic aspirations of other social groups.    

Those who think that the minority status will promote the interests of the minority community will only be advocating a shallow minorityism at the cost of securing genuine minority rights.

Those in favour of minority status argue that the OBC reservations will nullify Jamia’s internal reservation, and will in the long run, negatively influence the intake of Muslim students in the university. A case is being made out as though Muslim and OBCs are two mutually exclusive and opposed categories, and as if Muslims are a monolithic and homogenous group with no internal hierarchies. This is patently incorrect and academically unsound. A large proportion of the Muslim population is OBC. It stood at 40.7 per cent according to the 61st round of NSSO (2004-5), (in Bihar and UP, the proportion of OBC Muslim population is much higher, standing at 63.4 per cent 64 per cent respectively).

 While the Sachar Committee report has clearly established that the educational level and representation of Muslims as a whole is low, the condition of Muslim OBCs is worse off than those of general Muslims. A larger percentage of Muslim OBCs fall in the low income category than the general Muslims (p. 213, SCR).   The monthly per capita expenditure (mpce) among general Muslims is Rs 833/- while among the Muslim OBCs, it stands at Rs 689/-. Illiteracy among general Muslims is 33.3 per cent; while among the OBCs it is 38; in higher education, the proportion of graduates and post graduates is 2.4 per cent for general Muslims and 1.9 per cent for Muslim OBCs.

 Are we to ignore the material, social and educational differentials within the community and allow the most marginalized and deprived groups (such as the Saifis, Julahas, Dhunias, Kunjras, and Hajjams included in the OBC list) who could have probably benefited from the OBC reservation? 

 While the Right-wing has created a mythic discourse of ‘Muslim appeasement’; the supposedly secular polity has also consistently evaded the issue of genuine Muslim empowerment and distributive justice, happy only to engage with cultural questions with a largely conservative leadership. This is best exemplified in the State’s approach towards addressing the educational needs of the Muslims. The 15-point Programme launched amidst much fanfare by the present government to alleviate the educational backwardness of the Muslims cannot see beyond Madarsas (accessed only by 3-4 per cent Muslim children). Even here, according to the Ministry of Minority Affairs report, a mere Rs. 49.50 crore was allocated under the scheme to cover 14539 Madarsa teachers across 14 states in 2008-09. This programme remains silent about higher education, ignoring SCR’s recommendation to open new centres of higher learning in Muslim populated areas, and the typical strategy has been to hand out certificates of minority status (according to the Ministry of HRD’s own press release dated 29 Jan 2008, so far 1000 institutions have thus been deemed minority institutions).

The granting of minority status to Jamia would in one stroke allow the Indian government, without spending even a single extra paisa, to claim a surge in its budgetary allocation for minority education. The resources which would have come to Jamia as a central university would instantly be subsumed under the 15 point programme.

 Any genuine struggle for Muslim empowerment and rights should be to demand and ensure the presence of Muslims in all institutions of higher education rather than creating and limiting their presence in separate educational enclaves. This is a demand that the state would only be too ready to grant, allowing it to wash its hands off the more crucial and difficult task of making higher education across the board more accessible to Muslims. We caution the government not to perpetuate the politics of minority-ism while abandoning the cause of minority rights.


Prof. (Retd.) Shamim Hanafi,

Prof. Azra Razzack,

Dr. Farah Farooqi,

Prof. M.S. Bhatt,

Dr. Manisha Sethi,

Adeel Mehdi,

Tanweer Fazal,

Dr. M. Ghazi Shahnawaz,

Dr. Arshad Alam,

Ahmed Sohaib,

Dr. Arvinder Ansari,

Dr. Kulwinder Kaur,

Dr. Sarwat Ali,

Prof. Farida Khan,

Prof. Anwar Alam,

Prof. Arif Ali,

Prof. Inayat Ziadi,

Prof. Sunita Zaidi,

Prof. Durga Prasad Gupta,

Mukul Kesavan,

Prof. Sheena Jain,

Prof. Madhu Khanna,

Dr. Nuzhat Kazmi,

Dr. P.K. Basant,

Dr. Ajay Behera,

Dr. Gomati Bodara,

Dr. Pradyuman,

Dr. Firdaus,

Mujibur Rehman,

Harpreet Kaur,

Dr. Narendra Kumar,

Dr. Samrendra Padmanabh,