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Aligarh Muslim University’s minority character

Context:

  • Recently, seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court started hearing the matter pertaining to Aligarh Muslim University’s minority character.
  • This dispute that dates back almost 57 years and has been adjudicated upon multiple times by different courts in India.

What is the ‘minority character’ of an educational institution?

  • According to article 30(1) of the Constitution, it empowers all religious and linguistic minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.
  • This provision reinforces the central government’s commitment to promote growth and development of minority communities by guaranteeing that it will not discriminate in giving aid on the basis of their being ‘minority’ institutions.

Creation of AMU:

  • AMU’s origins can be traced back to the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MOA) College which was established by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in 1875.
  • It was established to help Muslims overcome educational backwardness and prepare for government services.
  • MOA not only taught Western education but also emphasised Islamic theology.
  • Sir Syed Ahmed khan also advocated for women’s education.
  • In the year 1920, the institution was conferred university status and all assets of MOA College were transferred to it.

When did the university’s minority character come under dispute?

  • The legal dispute over AMU’s minority status dates back to 1967 when the Supreme Court in S. Azeez Basha and another versus Union of India led by then Chief Justice of India KN Wanchoo was reviewing changes made in 1951 and 1965 to the AMU Act of 1920.
  • These amendments affected how the university was run.
  • For example originally, the 1920 Act said that the Governor General of India would be the head of the University.
  • But in 1951, they changed it to replace ‘Lord Rector’ with ‘Visitor,’ and this Visitor would be the President of India.
  • Further, a provision that said only Muslims could be part of the University Court was removed, allowing non-Muslims to join.
  • Apart from that, the amendments reduced the authority of the University Court and increased the powers of the Executive Council of University.
  • According to the 1920 Act, the Supreme Court stated that the university was not solely operated by Muslims.
  • Instead, its administration was entrusted to the Lord Rector and other statutory bodies.
  • Even the University Courtwhich had only Muslim members, was elected by an electorate which was not exclusively Muslim, the Supreme Court noted.

Why does the dispute persist?

  • The SC ruling triggered nationwide protests from Muslims.
  • In response, political authorities yielded in 1981 and introduced an amendment to the AMU Act which explicitly affirmed its minority status.
  • The amendment introduced Section 2(l) and Subsection 5(2)(c) stating that the university was an educational institution of their choice established by the Muslims of India and subsequently incorporated as the AMU.
  • In 2005, the AMU implemented a reservation policy, which reserved 50% of seats in postgraduate medical courses for Muslim candidates.
  • This was challenged in the Allahabad High Court, which, in the same year, overturned the reservation and nullified the 1981 Act.
  • The court reasoned that the AMU could not maintain an exclusive reservation because, according to the Supreme Court’s verdict in the S. Azeez Basha case, it did not qualify as a minority institution.

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