By M.V. Kamath
Isn'tit time that we in India gave up some of our time-worn ideas and marched ahead into the twenty first century unburdened with concepts that have ceased to have any meaning or relevance? To give an example or two: When, in the early sixties I was a news correspondent in Bonn, Germany, I was guest at dinner at the home of the chairman of Krupps, the premier arms manufacturer of pre-First World War vintage. In the course of our conversation, the chairman made the point that when Karl Marx raised the slogan: ?Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains? he was being literally accurate. Workers in the Krupps firmament factory were truly bound in chains to their jobs. That was at the beginning of the 20th century.
Communism then became the rage. Lenin started the revolution in Russia and Stalin carried on the campaign to set up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and in the process killing some five million people. The Soviet Union is now broken up and Russia does not know what to do with the embalmed body of Lenin lying in his tomb in Red Square in Moscow in permanent public exhibition.
The Russians of today couldn'tcare less. Much the same can be said about the memory in China of Mao Tse-tung, who, too, was responsible for the unnecessary killing of few millions. Communism is all but dead both in Russia and China. What needs to be noted is that all ideologies function within a time-frame. Who on earth would have thought a hundred years ago when the infamous Ku Klux Klan?an anti-Black organisation that was ever at the threats of Black people in the southern states of the United States of America?was running wild that in the beginning of the twenty first century, the US would have a Black Secretary of State?and that, too, a woman! Condoleeza Rice'seminence is taken for granted! If only Martin Luther King was still alive! How happy he would have been!
Aligarh University is not intended merely to teach Islam. It was set up in 1920 by the then Central Legislature to carry forward western liberal values in education, literature and social life and contrasted in many ways to the Deoband Movement that was religion-oriented.
In the early years of the twentieth century when Hinduism in India was under siege from colonial forces, for Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya to work towards establishing a ?Hindu? University at Banaras seemed an urgent necessity. Thus it was that Banaras Hindu University came into existence.
The Aligarh movement that resulted in the setting up of the Aligarh Muslim University was in similar response to the challenges posed by British hegemony in India to a Muslim aristocracy that found itself discredited and isolated after the abortive 1857 uprising.
It was, as the Historical Dictionary of India notes ? a response based on faith in British tutelage and British education as a means or reinvigoration and upward mobility for sons of the Muslims landed gentry.? But times have changed. To describe any university in terms of a religion is the height of absurdity, unless such a university has been set up by a specific religious group to undertake the study of a specific religion.
Aligarh University is not intended merely to teach Islam. It was set up in 1920 by the then Central Legislature to carry forward western liberal values in education, literature and social life and contrasted in many ways to the Deoband Movement that was religion-oriented. Aligarh students study science and the arts and neither has a religious appendage. Had Aligarh University been set up by Muslims, for Muslims with no help financially from any other source other than Muslim, it would have been within its rights to declare itself as a Muslim University. But that is not the case. The matter of running the University as a minority body, in the circumstances, does not arise.
Apart from that, hasn'tthe time come for India to look at the issue of ?minorities? in a new light? To talk of a Muslim University or a Hindu University these days has no meaning. Universities should have no religious tag attached to them. The time has come to give up even the ?majority? and ?minority? tag. In India everybody is in a minority. This country does not need Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi and Sikh Universities. To even think along religious lines is to go back to the medieval ages. Even if a university is set up with funds raised by a particular community, is it wise in this day and age to restrict admission to it in whatever measure only to people of that community?
Where are we heading towards? One can understand reservations in government-run institutions for Scheduled Castes and other Backward Class students as a measure of social reform; and also because economically the members of Scheduled Castes are not strong to set up their own institutions. But surely the same cannot be said of members of the Muslim community?
Muslims in Kerala, according to a distinguished Muslim educationists, are now running ?hundreds of schools and around 100 higher learning centres including one medical college and three dozen engineering colleges. It has also been noted that Andhra Pradesh Muslims across the State are running about 1,000 secondary and high schools, 35 engineering and two medical colleges and other institutions for technical training. Surely they don'tbar children of other faiths from joining them?
Education should be a strictly secular matter and the more inter-mixing there is in any institution, set up by whosoever, of students of all faiths, the greater will be its contribution to national unity. The Constitution does not prevent any community from setting up its own institutions but it is a wise community that opens the gates of its institutions to one and all. As Syed Iqbal Hasnain, Vice Chancellor of the University of Calicut has noted in an article in The Times of India, ?educational institutions in the south play a major role in keeping communal harmony in the region? by accommodating ?students and faculty from various religious and cultural backgrounds, thereby having a unifying impact in society?. And that is how it should be.
What the Allahabad High Court has done by quashing a Central law that bestowed the status of minority upon Aligarh Muslim University is a step in the right direction. To argue that it has caused insecurity among the Muslim population is plain silly. The Allahabad High Court'sverdict is only against the government'ssetting aside by statute any institution specifically for a minority group and not against any institution founded by a minority group. And there is a vast difference between the two. But the judgement notwithstanding, the time surely has come for all Indians to agree to give up minority tags that separate one group from another. What should count is talent. And let it not be said that Muslims are less talented as a group than others. That would be blasphemy and an untruth, and unworthy of a secular nation.
It is time for Indians to get over their old shibboleths. Let us be just what we are?Indians.