Is Aligarh Muslim University at Risk of Losing Its Minority Character?

The arguments remain inconclusive, and the hearing will continue on January 23.
Is Aligarh Muslim University at Risk of Losing Its Minority Character?

Lucknow- Recently, the Supreme Court made an observation on the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), stating that an educational institution does not lose its minority status solely because its administration is regulated by a statute.

The Centre, in its argument before the SC, asserted that minority educational institutions are not obligated to adhere to the reservation policy outlined in Section 3 of the Central Educational Institute (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 (as amended in 2012).

A seven-judge bench is hearing the case of AMU to determine whether the institute qualifies as a minority institution. The bench comprises of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justices Sanjiv Khanna, Surya Kant, JB Pardiwala, Dipankar Datta, Manoj Misra and Satish Chandra Sharma.

In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that AMU was not a minority institution, and now the Government of India has approached the Apex court to challenge the university's minority status.

“Aligarh Muslim University is not and cannot be a university of any particular religion or religious denomination, as any university declared by the Constitution of India to be of national importance cannot be, by definition, a minority institution,” stated Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in his written submissions to the Supreme Court of India.

According to a PTI report, the Solicitor General of India argued in court that the university has been an institution of national importance.

SC observations in the ongoing AMU case

  • The Supreme Court, in the ongoing AMU case, emphasizes that being regulated by a statute does not strip an institution of its minority status.

  • Article 30 of the Constitution is clarified to not mandate exclusive administration by the minority community for maintaining minority status.

  • -The court acknowledges that a minority institution can have a secular administration and is not restricted to offering only religious courses. It can admit students from diverse communities.

  • A crucial question before the Constitution Bench is whether an institution can be considered a minority educational institution based on its establishment by individuals belonging to a religious or linguistic minority.

  • The presence of office-bearers from the majority community in certain administrative roles does not automatically diminish the minority character of educational institutions.

The History of Aligarh Muslim University

AMU is considered a minority educational institution in India, established in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, later becoming Aligarh Muslim University in 1920. The university aimed to promote modern education among Muslims in India.

In August 1920, the AMU Act was introduced, declaring the institution a minority institution. Speaking on the AMU Bill in the Central Legislative Council, the then education member, Sir Mohammed Shafi, expressed the government's intention to provide substantial financial assistance to the proposed university.

However, the minority status of the university was diluted in 1951 and 1965 when the central government passed amendments, altering the governing structure and granting powers to the President of India to nominate members. In 1981, a law was introduced to restore the minority status. In 2005, the Allahabad High Court ruled against the minority status, leading to a Supreme Court referral in 2019 to a seven-judge bench.

The Legal Subtleties

The constitutional status of AMU involves legal subtleties. Article 30 of the Constitution allows linguistic and religious minorities to open their institutions, but it is unclear on universities. The UGC Act stipulates that a university can be established only through a law of the Parliament or the Assembly.

Some experts argue that AMU can't claim to be a minority institute as the Parliament established it in 1920. "If AMU and Jamia are taking grants, they need to implement reservations for SC/ST," commented Amir Mintoyi, a student leader at Aligarh Muslim University, during an interview with The Mooknayak. He argued that minorities in the country have cultural and educational freedom, allowing them to establish their own universities under Article 30. Mintoyi emphasized that the university's establishment through an act of Parliament does not mean ownership by the government, drawing a parallel with a society registered through a registrar not being owned by the registrar. The act bringing the university into existence transferred all properties of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College to the university, confirming its Muslim character.

Regarding the reservation issue, Mintoyi questioned why Scheduled Castes belonging to Muslims and Christian communities are exempted, expressing concerns highlighted in reports like the Sachchar Committee and Ranganath Mishra committee, which have testified to the backwardness of Muslims.

Rahul Sonpimple of the All India Independent Scheduled Caste Association added, "If institutes like AMU and Jamia are taking support from the government, they need to give reservations to the weaker sections like SC/ST." He criticized the obfuscation of the issue by institutions claiming to provide funds and assistance while avoiding implementing reservations. Sonpimple warned against right-wing attempts to use the issue for their benefit by communalizing it. He noted that many institutes today, including Banaras Hindu University, run by right-wing individuals, do not implement reservations through rules like NFS (Not Found Suitable).

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