February 07, 2016

Threat to Minority Culture

C P Bhambhri

THE recent announcement by the Narendra Modi government that Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi established by an act of parliament, cannot be recognised as special “minority institutions’ because the secular constitution of India does not permit the government to establish and provide funds to institutions of higher learning, specifically for the promotion of education and culture of religious minority communities. Attorney General of India Mukul Rohtagi while appearing for the central government before the Supreme Court in January 2016 observed, “As the Executive Government at the Centre, we cannot seem as setting up a minority institution in secular India”, and hence AMU cannot be given a ‘minority status’. Similarly, Delhi High Court is hearing a case on the question of granting ‘minority’ status to Jamia Millia Islamia. The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act (2004) has observed “we have no hesitation in holding that Jamia was founded by the Muslims for the benefit of the Muslims and it never lost its identity as a Muslim minority educational institution”. It has been also been argued by the advocates of ‘minority’ status for AMU and JMI that Article 30 of the Indian Constitution states, “All minorities whether based on religion or language shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice and the Indian state will provide them with “funds and grants”.

The Supreme Court had set the record right on January 15, 2015 that “the power to grant minority status to an institution was entirely with the central government which may decide it, based on relevant materials”. This is a legislative and formal state of affairs and it is the central government which has decided not to permit the AMU and JMI, Delhi, the “minority status” and by implication not recognize the “unique” status of these institutions of higher learning. The larger issue is that both AMU and JMI were established in pre-independence India in special historical circumstances which prevailed during the British Colonial rule in the country. The Modi government is deciding on this extremely significant educational and cultural issue which directly impacts the Muslim minority community by completely ignoring the history of institutions and if the context of the establishment of these institutions is ignored, decisions will be taken on the basis of ideological and political benefits of the present central government which is perceived “anti-minority” by Muslims and Christians of India. The crux of the issue is that “past” is ignored with a view to serve the “present” ideological preferences and beliefs of the Modi government at the Centre.

A few salient facts can be mentioned here to substantiate the argument that the “past” is becoming a victim of the “present”.  First, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan with a few Muslim leaders established the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh in 1880 to impart education to Muslims, especially women and teach English language with a view to bring Muslim community into the mainstream of India. It is later that MAO graduated into AMU and Rs 30 Lakh collected by Muslims was handed over to the university. The genesis of AMU in imparting education is to promote ‘culture’ of Muslims for bringing Muslims into the modernisation process of society. Second, while in the 1920s, AMU was getting infected by communal ideology of All-India Muslim League, in response to Mahatma Gandhi’s call “to boycott all educational institutions supported or run by the Colonial regime”, Jamia as a nationalist institution was established in Aligarh and later on shifted to Delhi as a registered society. Third, the S Radhakrishnan Report on Education, D S Kothari report on education in post-independence India had laid great emphasis on the role of higher education in promotion of “culture” and this integral relationship between “universities” and “culture” is a well-recognised pedagogic fundamental philosophical principle and this is precisely the issue that AMU and JMI, Delhi are performing the role of providing education and promoting cultural values and norms of life of minority community.

It deserves to be refereed here that Dr. Zakir Hussain, the former President of India, had been Vice-Chancellor of both minority institutions of Aligarh and Jamia. Further, non-official attempts were made during the colonial period to establish institutions of higher learning like P T Madan Mohan Malviya in the 1920s established Kashi Vishwa Vidyalaya which later became Benaras Hindu University and even a temple of Lord Shiva was also established within the premises of this University. Maharishi Rabindranath Tagore established Vishwa Bharati in early 20th Century with a philosophy of education that “repetition is not the purpose of education that can be done by machine”. The above narrative clearly shows that public spirited individuals  and community leaders had established ‘universities’ and colleges on their own in pre-independence India to promote values and cultural ethos among students and members of diverse cultural communities like Muslims, Christians, Brahmo Samaj et.al. Should history of these institutions be white washed in the name of Constitution and narrow “legalism” to suit the current governments and political dispensation? If the historical context of the establishment of educational institutions of pre-independence India cannot be ignored while dealing with the present situations, the present context where religious minorities, both Muslims and Christians on the basis of their daily experience, have developed a strong feeling that the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in states where they are in power are promoting hegemonic sectarian Hindu culture and erasing and completely eradicating minority cultures of a highly diverse and plural society. This fear from the forces of Hindutva which are in government has completely unnerved and shaken the minority community on the stand taken by the Modi government on AMU and JMI.

The BJP-led state government in Madhya Pradesh has made “Surya Namaskar” and “recitation of Gayatri Mantra” and “Om” as compulsory for every student in schools fully funded by the state exchequer. The BJP-led government in the state of Chhattisgarh has asked all principals of Christian Missionary schools to compulsorily ask their students not to address Principal as Father, but as Acharya. These illustrations can be multiplied and this ongoing Hinduisation of culture in educational institutions by the Modi government was again witnessed when on January 19, 2016 a high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister himself has been constituted to “identify Yoga Art and Science” for teaching purposes in schools, colleges and universities and Prime Minister Modi’s yoga teacher H R Narendra is to play an active role in the framing up of curriculum for teaching purposes. There is a genuine apprehension among religious minorities, both Muslims and Christians, that the Hindu Sangh Parivar is pushing the agenda of Hinduisation through educational institutions and this fear based on facts has made Muslims quite nervous on the stand taken by the Modi government.

Minorities want to “protect” their culture as a matter of their “right” and this “right” of minorities can only be protected by providing special safeguards to their educational institutions. The RSS and the BJP governments are announcing from housetop that inherited British system of education has “polluted” Hindu minds and made them weak nationalists and there is a need to ‘promote’ Hinduism through new education in India.  It is in this context that the present issue of AMU and JMI needs to be seen and the minority cultures need to be protected from the onslaught of Hindu hegemonisation. Education is not “culture-neutral”, hence AMU, JMI cannot accept the present approach of the central government as a ‘neutral’ intervention in minority affairs. ds these targets with renewed energy, zeal and conviction.