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Islam and Politics ( 2 March 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Opposing reservation doesn’t mean opposing progress of Muslims

Opposing reservation doesn’t mean opposing progress of Muslims


by Yousuf Saeed

When I wrote why I am opposed to Jamia Millia’s Minority status, many friends liked my frank opinions but a lot of them also got angry with me, thinking that I am against the progress of the underprivileged Muslims who are not well equipped to compete in entrance exams and job interviews. Some friends also said that my views are coming from an elite Muslim who can afford to reject the minority status. Some mentioned that the Hindustan Times could happily carry my article since it served their “majoritarian” purpose, and the mainstream media always ignores the point of view of those who are campaigning for minority status. I respect all these opinions and would like to clarify my position here:

Firstly, I am not an elite Muslim - I come from an orthodox family living in a typical Muslim neighborhood of Jamia Nagar with mosques around me and hundreds of newly migrated underprivileged Muslims as my neighbors. I received my entire education at Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, the two institutions seeking minority status. Secondly, I am fully aware of the difficulties the Muslims, especially from poor or lower middle class families find in getting admissions or jobs in mainstream institutions. I fully agree that a large number of Muslims need support and special advantage to get ahead in life – the families and surroundings they come from do not provide them the opportunities to get ahead in life. There are also complaints about some mainstream institutions being biased against Muslims – they deliberately prevent the entry of Muslims and so on. All this has also been proven by the Sachar Committee Report hence I do not need
to repeat it. 

My point was that only Jamia Millia getting a blanket 50 percent reservation is not the best solution to uplift the condition of Muslims; and some Muslims celebrating its announcement should not project that all Muslims have readily welcomed it. A public debate is probably required before it can be implemented. Blanket reservations are easy and short-cut methods of a community’s progress, but do not address many other complex issues. I would like to show what problems I find with this special status, and what alternatives could have been tried:

- Demand for a quota/reservation for Muslims only in Jamia shows that we want all Muslims to remain limited only to Jamia and not try other institutions. If minority status is given to Jamia, will Muslim candidates be readily welcomed in other mainstream institutions? Won’t other institutions (like Delhi University) argue that now that Jamia has a 50% quota for Muslims, why should we prefer Muslims students in our institution?

- If the recommendations of Sachar Committee have to be implemented, why shouldn’t we seek a small (say 5 percent) quota for Muslims in all institutions for a better representation all over the country? Won’t that be a better solution than seeking a 50% quota only in Jamia? Why do all Muslims from the length and breadth of the country have to converge only at Jamia? Why shouldn’t we decentralize our demand for a quota?

- Demand for a 50% Muslim quota in Jamia does not address the problem of the Muslim OBCs, which is a major issue rose by the Sachar Committee. If the minority status is given to Jamia, will it have any special sub-quota for the Muslim OBCs? I know many of our friends will say that there are no Muslim OBCs since Islam doesn’t believe in caste system. 

- I agree that some people cannot progress without reservation. But as a student I also know what kind of social stigma or label you can acquire if you get admission or appointment in an institution through a quota. In your class or department, everyone who got admission through their merit always give you a different look. They may not say it in front of you, but in your absence they always refer to you as a boy or girl who came “via the quota.” This stigma can last your entire lifetime, and it is one of the biggest reasons why I hate to be called a “minority.” Of course, if I got admission through my merit, I can always be much more proud of my worth, and socialize more confidently. Why should we not be a part of the majority and lead more confident lives?

- In hushed conversations at Jamia, I overheard people saying that a Muslim quota is urgently required because “a large number of non-Muslims have recently been appointed as Jamia’s staff (especially in the previous VC’s tenure), and they will soon erase Jamia’s Muslim character.” I would like to make two points about this. (1) If you do a random count of the teaching staff in Jamia’s various departments today (see for instance the faculty lists supplied on JMI website) you will find as much as 76 percent staff with Muslim sounding names (some departments have up to 99 or 100 percent Muslims)! This is already way above the 50% quota being demanded. But a more important point is (2) why do we always look at non-Muslims as some kind of threat? And why is a competition with them always seen in communal terms? (Yes, the same questions can also be applied in some mainstream institutions outside Jamia where Muslims are seen as a “threat”). If a
meritorious non-Muslim, being a great expert in his/her field, is appointed in Jamia, isn’t that a boon for Jamia’s students?

- I have often found this scenario in JMI as well as AMU: if a non-Muslim teacher tries to be hard or strict with the students in order to raise their quality of education, to get them to work harder or be punctual in the class etc., some Muslim students see his/her strictness as a communal attitude towards Muslims. I know such sensitive issues never get discussed. My point is that Muslim or non-Muslim, whenever a competent teacher is employed in Jamia, he/she may be genuinely interested in improving the condition of students here. Why do we always have to doubt their intentions if they are not Muslim? If we do find a specific problem we can always make a complaint.

- I have always felt that instead of reservation what Muslims need is better preparation and coaching to get admission and jobs. I wonder why all the people who are crying about the plight of poor Muslims and campaigning for minority status cannot get together and start high standard coaching centres where underprivileged Muslims are given free or inexpensive training? Some efforts have been tried in this direction and have shown great results, such as the Hamdard Study Circle (Delhi) or even the Super 30 group in Patna from which one can learn so much. A much smaller example is a charity-based centre started in Zakir Nagar (near Jamia) by the alumni of Darul Uloom Deoband where a small group of graduates of the madrasa are trained each year, and manage to get admissions into many prime institutions and have even got jobs abroad. Why couldn’t Jamia Teachers Association or Jamia Old Boys Association concentrate their efforts in this direction? There can
be hundreds of other innovative ideas and affirmative action’s one could take to uplift the community instead of only demanding a minority status.

- Let us also not forget that the issue of reservation is used by all political parties to create their vote banks. Whether Congress, BJP, SP or whatever, somebody will get political mileage out of Jamia’s minority status, and though they may not be interested in the long term development of Muslims. Let us not get fooled by them.

The above are my personal opinions and anyone is free to challenge them. I have no intentions of appealing in a court to impose my views on anyone, but would be happy if a healthy and productive dialogue could start. I would also be happy to take part in any affirmative action that allows Muslims to improve themselves. But I am still not convinced about demanding a quota as their birthright.