Anubhooti Panda, BeyondHeadlines
The whispers were doing the rounds in the corridors of the university for quite some time. Most students knew that the day was not far off. Some supported it, many opposed it and as always, there were a few who just did not care. And finally, the inevitable happened. The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) recommended that Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) should be declared a minority university.
Those who were demanding for the minority status had argued that with the reservations for the backward classes and the university already having some seats reserved for “internal students,” Muslims might not get a fair deal in the future. There were fears that without special reservations for them, the number of Muslim students may decrease significantly in the campus. Although it is an open secret that barring a few courses, there are about 70 percent Muslim students in almost every department.
This would have remained just another news to me, if I had not had this argument with Mahtab Alam, an alumnus of JMI, after a common friend posted it as a Facebook status. The argument arose when the common friend and I were discussing the repercussions of the step and how it may affect the quality of students getting admissions in the university. Sarcastically commenting on our discussion, Mahtab said: “So sad! Ab to jamia me talent hi aana band ho jayega, aur jamia jald hi ‘madarsa’ ban jayega jahan sirf Musalman paida honge aur wo bhi Talibani….kyun? (So sad, no talented student will now come to Jamia to study, and soon Jamia will become a madrasa where only Muslims will be imparted education and that too would be Talibani….Isn’t it?)”
It is the reaction that pushed me to write this piece. I do not oppose the move to grant minority status to Jamia just because I am not a minority. Nor do I believe that Muslims are any lesser talented than me. And I definitely do not fear that JMI will soon turn into a Talibanised madrasa. I am against the tag because I believe that the university is much more than just the political and religious controversy it has been turned into.
My fear about the dilution of talent is not because I question the abilities of those who do not belong to my religion. The fear is more about reservation and not about reservation for Muslims par say. It is a fact that when seats are reserved and people are allowed to jump the queue, those who are less deserving (in spite of the religion they practice) get the enjoy and the advantages that are rightfully not theirs.
Secondly, once the university is granted minority character, the outside world will always doubt the abilities of every Muslim student passing out, no matter how much talented they are. The common perception would be that “he got through only because there were seats were reserved for him.” And I am sure all of us would agree with the fact that the entire purpose of the demand would be defeated if we could not secure the respect they deserve.
I am not alone. A lot of my friends, most of whom are Muslims, have expressed their reservations about tagging JMI as a minority university. Their fears are more valid than mine. They are the ones who have to face the prejudice. They are the ones who have to prove their worth in their professions all over again. They are ones who will have to work harder to rise above the marginalization.
Neither I am not against the upliftment of Muslims nor do I believe that I have any more or less rights than them. But I also believe that turning a university into a minority institute is not the solution. The problems are at the grass root level and this is where it needs to be addressed. More and more children should be encouraged to go to school. Reservation, if required, should be given in primary classes and not beyond.
If the community feels that it needs a university, it should ask for a new and separate institution. This will only provide the community an opportunity to build the image of the university and will prove to be a platform for it to showcase talent. A university in the regions where Muslims are in large number will not only encourage education but will also prevent migration to bigger cities. This will also promote the growth and development of the area.
Jamia Milia Islamia is as much my alma mater as it is Mahtab’s. I am as much concerned about securing its future as is he. I am sorry to say, but going by the current developments, I am not quite sure about what will be the future of the varsity and its students. At the moment, the institution only seems like a pawn in the hands of certain politicians to meet their political needs. All I can hope is that supporters of the minority institution can see beyond the immediate benefits that the decision will usher in.
Regarding the dispute between me and Mahtab, we both have decided to stand our ground. We have agreed to disagree.
Anubhooti can be contacted at email@example.com
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.