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Jamia ruling: win-win or setback?

Muslims across the country on Tuesday celebrated after a court ruled that Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia - set up nationalist Muslims during India's freedom struggle - was a minority institution.

delhi Updated: Feb 23, 2011 01:45 IST
Zia Haq

Muslims across the country on Tuesday celebrated after a court ruled that Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia - set up nationalist Muslims during India's freedom struggle - was a minority institution.

A debate whether this would help promote inclusion or further alienate the community, however, raged on.

Jamia has been an emotional anchor for Muslims, who saw the state snatch away an institution raised and bequeathed by their founders, even as others, such as St Stephen's flourish.

"It is the most significant verdict involving Muslims since Independence," Tariq Siddiqui, a lawyer for those fighting for the minority tag, said.

Jamia's minority status - in the eyes of Muslims - constitutes a bedrock freedom, given to them by Article 30, which governs fundamental rights.

One of these allows minorities to set up and run their own institutions. "Fundamental rights can never die, cannot be forfeited or surrendered," according to Illyas Malik, the convener of a campaign for Jamia's minority status.

The literacy rate of Muslims is well below the national average, according to the November 2006 Sachar report. Muslims - mostly Sunnis - make up 13.4% of India's population, yet hold fewer than 5% of government jobs.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/23_02_11-metro-3b.jpg

"Therefore, minority institutions, which can reserve seats for students of the community they represent, are critical. Jamia can now reserve 50% of seats for Muslim students. Rest would be open to all. This is no ghettoisation but promotion of real merit and pluralism," argues Faizan Mustafa, the vice-chancellor of state-run National Law University, Cuttack.

However, the larger debate is still about how best to promote education among Muslims. Manisha Sethi, an assistant professor of Jamia, dreams of a Jamia that is against "insularity" and "isolationism of all kinds".

"Those who think the minority status will promote the interests of the minority community will only be advocating a shallow minorityism at the cost of securing genuine minority rights," she said.