Support AMU for ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’

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Students relaxing outside the Women's College at the Aligarh Muslim University. Image credit: R.V. Moorthy/The Hindu
Students relaxing outside the Women’s College at the Aligarh Muslim University. Image credit: R.V. Moorthy/The Hindu

Almost a century after AMU became a university India today needs more institutions like Aligarh. Many more. For, that will provide a real fillip to sabka saath sabka vikas (taking along everyone, progress for all) arguably the mantra of the current Indian government

MEHRE ALAM | Caravan Daily

Haathon ke lakiroon pay mat jaa aye Ghalib,

Naseeb unkay bhi hote hain jinke haath nahin hote

(Do not go by the fate lines on your palms O Ghalib,

Those without hands too have their destinies…)

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e see life throwing new challenges every now and then. But then it’s through the scrape that so many sterling stories have to be scripted with.

Life, it can also be argued, will not come to a standstill for the increasingly aspirational Indian Muslims – they obviously wish the best (possible) of education and career for their children – if the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) loses its “minority status.”

On the other hand, if this varsity with deep historical roots is allowed to retain its minority tag it will surely come as a huge relief for Muslims across the length and breadth of the country.

It’s the apex court that will decide whether the AMU is a “minority institution” or not. The Center, on its part, had withdrawn an appeal filed in the Supreme Court (SC) by the previous Congress-led government that had sought to retain the minority status for the AMU.

Justifying the BJP-led government’s stand on the issue, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi claimed there was “nothing political” in the government withdrawing the plea in SC.However, that clarification failed to cut ice with many observers. For, there is a growing feeling this was nothing but “political football” against the backdrop of the crucial assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, due next year.

However, whether there was a political motive or not, with its last stand on the issue done and dusted, many believe the NDA 2 may have lost a golden opportunity to walk the talk on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stated objective of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’.

If only for argument’s sake we go beyond the legal angle, the issue of AMU’s minority status clearly throws up an array of what-could-have-been possibilities.

A contrarian stand – assuming the NDA government at the Center had not withdrawn the appeal filed by the previous UPA regime – would have firmly silenced those doubting the earnestness of the Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas slogan.

After all, haven’t we have been told, time and again, that the BJP, unlike the other “pseudo-secular parties”, especially the grand old Congress party, believes in genuine uplift of all countrymen, including those left behind in the development story, without appeasement?

And, haven’t we been consistently reminded that the pseudo-secularists – “sickulars” is the word more in currency now – were never interested in any genuine development of the deprived sections, and that they had only been using the minorities as “vote banks” and nothing more.

So here was a chance for the BJP-led government to back a minority institution that has been playing a pivotal role in churning out an educated class that stands hand-in-hand with the very best (AMU’s impressive ranking among the universities in India is a case in point), and contributes immensely to nation-building.

What’s more, here is a university where students from all classes – a large majority of the pupils coming to AMU are from the poorer and lower middle class strata – are able to pursue their studies, negotiating the financial impediments, aided, of course, by boarding and mess charges that are among the most affordable.

For a large number of Muslim parents struggling to make both ends meet, who’d otherwise not think of sending their wards to a higher seat of learning, the AMU has always stood as a beacon of hope. We can hear innumerable stories of students from struggling families going on to carve a special niche for themselves. These ambitions are backed by the availability of a large number of courses on one campus.

Although the quality of the food served in canteens of AMU hostels has undergone improvements, old timers often share a lighthearted banter about how, when the soul of Sir Syed visits the campus, it faces difficulty locating it. It’s only when the soul reaches the dining hall and smells the food that it knows this is the institution he had helped establish!

Banters apart, affordability is even more important a factor now. Considering its growing privatization, education is becoming an increasingly farther dream for children of lesser gods.

Therefore, hand-holding (as against appeasement) an institution that has produced some of the most distinguished citizens over the years, rather than pushing it to the wall of uncertainty, would have gelled so much more with PM Modi’s sabka saath sabka vikas formula.

Of late, the Muslim community has been undergoing a sort of educational renaissance of its own. It’s the need of the hour, in fact, to not only back AMU’s claim to “minority status” but to help establish many more such institutions. A large majority of Muslim youths continue to eke out their living through menial jobs in the unorganized sector. Every fourth ‘beggar’ in India is a Muslim, according to the Census 2011.

The Sachar Committee report very clearly spelt out the need for proactive measures for the socio-economic-educational uplift of the Muslim community.

No section of the society should be allowed to lag behind in the sphere of education, because there can be no vikas without education, and sabka saath sabka vikas will remain a pipe-dream without education for all.

Ensuring that minority institutions get the establishment’s backing so they can function without any hurdles, would only pave the way for sabka saath sabka vikas, rather than impede it.

That Indian Muslims have shown their anathema to the rising tide of extremism all across the globe – the presence of a very small section of black sheep notwithstanding – is testimony to their embrace of modernity, plurality and diversity, and a rejection of bigotry.

One only needs to flip the pages of history to see how the AMU had in the past been the target of malicious attacks from those opposed to Muslims going for modern education. Back then in late 19th century, the advocates of modern education were pitted against the forces that held education as “evil”. Sir Syed, who faced a Herculean task in establishing the college, was often reviled and humiliated for his quest for modern education for Muslims.

From the community’s point of view, the modernity-versus-conservatism question has not been consigned into the dustbin as yet. Far from it.

An educated and enlightened minority community, therefore, remains the key to fighting the forces of orthodoxy and dogmatism today, much like in 1875, when Sir Syed Ahmad Khan set up the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which was later turned into a university by the AMU Act in 1920.

Almost a century after AMU became a university the country today needs more AMUs. Many more. For, that will provide a real fillip to sabka saath sabka vikas (taking along everyone, progress for all) arguably the mantra of the current Indian government.

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