Realisation of a long-felt need'

Published : Mar 25, 2011 00:00 IST

Najeeb Jung: "I find the premise very insulting that a Muslim minority institution cannot be secular." - S. SUBRAMANIUM

Najeeb Jung: "I find the premise very insulting that a Muslim minority institution cannot be secular." - S. SUBRAMANIUM

Interview with Najeeb Jung, Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia.

PROGRESSIVE Muslims who have opposed the NCMEI decision declaring Jamia Millia Islamia a minority institution say the move will only add to Muslims' ghettoisation and isolation. They say that with the minority label, the university, which was established by Mahatma Gandhi and several progressive Muslim leaders in the wake of Khilafat movement and the Non-Cooperation Movement, will lose its historic secular character. However, Jamia Millia Islamia's Vice-Chancellor, Najeeb Jung, defended the NCMEI decision and said he found it insulting that people should think a Muslim institution could not remain secular or that it could not maintain high quality. I find the very premise of the objection insulting. Is not the St. Stephens College a secular institution? Is not the Khalsa College a secular institution, and why nobody raises doubts about the quality of education being provided there? Why should it be any different for Jamia? he asks. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

Statistics suggest that Jamia Millia Islamia already has a very high representation of Muslims. Then how does the minority status bring about any difference? What was the need for this status when Muslim students were already getting preference by virtue of Jamia's internal reservation of up to 25 per cent?

True. Muslim students comprise almost 51 per cent of the overall student strength in the university. But there is a discrepancy here because the majority of students are enrolled for courses like Persian, Urdu, religious studies, etc. In our flagship professional courses like engineering, MBA, mass communication, social work, etc., they were finding it difficult to compete. To give an example, recently we conducted the entrance test for admission to the M.A. course in physiotherapy. Not a single Muslim student could qualify for the 30 seats on offer. This is a pitiable state of affairs.

If the 15 per cent population of Muslims remains so educationally backward, then how would they be able to participate in modern nation-building and how would they ever be able to become part of the national mainstream. There was an urgent need of affirmative action for Muslims and I am glad that action has now come about. Better late than never. This decision should essentially be viewed from the angle of enhancement of the educational standards of Muslim youth and their empowerment, not appeasement or ghettoisation.

Would this not alter the secular character of the institution as it was established by Mahatma Gandhi and progressive Muslim leaders to impart secular, modern education to all sections of society? Don't you think the quality of education will go down as well?

I find the premise very insulting that a Muslim minority institution cannot be secular. Such Islamophobia is nonsense. And why should quality go down? Is St. Stephens College or Khalsa College not secular? Why nobody raises doubts about their quality of education? Then why should it be different for a Muslim minority institution? In fact, the NCMEI judgment places a huge responsibility on me to ensure that I prove the doomsayers wrong and not give an opportunity to people to turn around and say, I told you so. There is all the more responsibility on us to ensure that we remain as secular as we are and the quality remains as good or even better.

Jamia Millia Islamia is a Central University created by an Act of Parliament. Can the NCMEI alter its basic character without Parliament's approval? If it is a minority institution, then does it mean all other quotas go, for example those for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes?

I have no idea on these issues at the moment. These are complex issues, which we still have to address. We have to hold meetings with the HRD and Law Ministries and find out the way forward. I have no idea about the status of other quotas, but I suppose they do not hold any more. We have to first study the NCMEI judgment in detail and then only we will know. But let me assure you, the essential secular character of the university will not change, neither will the status of teachers.

Everything will remain the same. The only change will be in filling up seats in our flagship programmes with more Muslim students, but the rest 50 per cent seats in these programmes would be open to non-Muslim students. So why should there be any complaints from anyone?

Has the university's Executive Council or Academic Council deliberated upon the issue yet?

The Academic Council held a one-minute-long meeting soon after the NCMEI decision came, where I informed the members of the decision. No other meeting has been held after that.

Do you plan to discuss the matter in these bodies at some later date?

Where is the need for another meeting?

Do you see this decision as a victory for the Muslim community, one that will have wider implications for other institutions as well?

This is not the time to rejoice or celebrate. This is merely the realisation of a long-felt need. There is no doubt that the ground reality demands affirmative action for Muslims, who have lived in apathy and neglect for many years now. This decision only takes care of that long-felt need.

It is not a great battle won, but only a step towards the recognition of the social need of Muslims for educational and economic empowerment. This is not a communal move but a social acknowledgement of the ground realities. Muslims today need that sort of assurance that the rest of India cares for them.

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