Aligarh Muslim University Special Centres: Charting the Mandate and Achievements

The Aligarh Muslim University special centres in three states—Kerala, Bihar, and Bengal—cannot be viewed just as part of a set of political strategies for Muslim upliftment. 

The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) special centres were started 10 years ago. The special centres are satellite campuses of the AMU, intended to address the higher educational needs of the Muslim community. For this purpose, three locations were identified—Malappuram in Kerala, Murshidabad in West Bengal, and Kishanganj in Bihar.

Although a decade is inadequate to dissect their trajectory of growth, it is enough to weigh their social relevance, visible accomplishments, and realisation of declared objectives. 

 

Genesis of the Centres

 

While there is a considerable variation in the conditions of Muslims across the states, the community exhibits deficits and deprivation in practically all dimensions of development…. From lower levels of enrolment to a sharp decline in participation in higher levels of education the situation of Indian Muslims is indeed very depressing as compared to most other SRCs; in fact their situation seems to have worsened in relative terms.  [GoI 2006]

The idea of establishing a campus away from the main one was mooted in 2002 by Digvijay Singh, then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. He also offered 100 acres of land to the Gharib Nawaz Foundation towards this objective. The response of the Ministry of Human Resources Development was supportive and amidst excitement and apprehensions, the idea crystallised into a time-bound plan (Khursheed 2016). 

This idea of establishing off campus centres was the first of its kind in India and therefore, no proto model per se was in existence. In tune with the suggestions from different sources, the proposal was drawn up on the strength of Section 12 (2) of Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act, 1981 which read as follows:

… the University may also, with the sanction of the Visitor and subject to the Statutes and Ordinances, establish and maintain such Special Centres, Specialised Laboratories or such other institutions for research or instruction as are necessary for the furtherance of its objects either on its own or in cooperation or collaboration with any other institution. 

Subsequently, the President of India in the capacity of visitor accorded approval to establish special centres in 2010 pursuant to the AMU Court's resolution, executive council's approval, and the academic council's approval (AMU 2016a, 2016b).

Notwithstanding the political urge embodied in the thread of this resolution, the whole process did not take note of the implications of the Allahabad court verdict on the minority status of the university while it went on building the plan model for the special centres. The Allahabad court had upheld in 2006 that the AMU is not a minority institution within the meaning of Article 30 of the Constitution and thereby equated it to any other Indian central university where the admission procedures do not have any special provision on minority status. In effect, it nullified the provisions of the Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act, 1981 which granted the AMU minority status on the pretext that the university grew out of Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College, an institution set up by Muslims. The case is still in the court for appeal. However, two interesting questions remain unanswered: Did the proposal to extend the campus to other parts of the country reflect a realistic environmental scan? It does not appear so. In fact, it was the time when the AMU had undergone a severe legal shock that questioned and damaged its institutional rights and identity. Did the stakeholders of this resolution realise that the restoration of its rights has to precede its decision to expand? 

 

Moving beyond the Campus

 

The special centres were planned in three states of India, in places with a Muslim majority and with a lesser gross enrolment ratio (GER), way behind the national average of 12.4 (UGC 2008). The special centres in Malappuram and Murshidabad were established in 2010 and Kishanganj became the venue for the third centre in 2013. Malappuram, the district with a majority of Muslims, was identified as a suitable location and the Government of Kerala awarded the title deed for 336 acres of land in Perinthalmanna taluk. The Murshidabad centre is built on a big campus of 288 acres in Jangipur. The third centre was set up on 224 acres of land in Mouza Chakla and Govindapur in Kishanganj district in Bihar (AMU 2016a). 

What were the reasons for the university to move beyond the main campus? Why were Malappuram, Murshidabad, and Kishanganj chosen? Why were other backward areas in Uttar Pradesh with a lesser GER among Muslims not chosen? 

These questions have very strong implications because the three centres are located in states with differing political grammar. Implanting an institution that has been nurtured in a different scenario in a new environment is likely to be branded negatively. In a society that is prone to the use and abuse of historical images, the impact of the new institutions can be visibly mutated from their declared objectives. This is especially true when the Muslim minority is concerned. While the establishment of the centres was underway, the general feeling was that they were related to the Sachar Committee recommendations (AMU 2014). This is incorrect for two reasons. Firstly, the idea of the special centres took shape by itself well before the submission of the Sachar Committee Report in 2006. Secondly, the report does not carry a reference to any initiative of the nature of special centres nor does the spirit of the report have an ideological convergence with the practice embodied in the expansion of the university.   

 

Form of the Centres

 

It is claimed that the three centres have been set up in Muslim majority areas with the support of the respective state governments. These were imagined on an unhistorical ideological premise which fallaciously assumed that religious identity connects people and its secular institutions. This equation is unhistorical, particularly in the context of the history of Aligarh Muslim University. Aligarh did not have a Muslim majority. Even the census report of 2011 portrays a demographic composition with 79.05% Hindus and 19.85% Muslims (ADRC 2011). In fact, this newly projected ideology had also never been considered by the university’s founder, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, when he dreamt of a centre of learning for Muslims. The discussion on the location of the special centres validated a subconscious feeling among people that the AMU special centres are meant for Muslims. Muslim organisations also embraced it as a sign of conceptual ownership. Amidst this irony, the special centres came into existence and unlike other educational initiatives, they were destined to be the victim of both unreasonable ownership by Muslim organisations as well as uncourteous negation by the Hindutva ideology.

Ironically, the Muslim intelligentsia and the secular political parties often fail to foresee the hidden interest in populist resolutions pertaining to AMU. The student profile does not show an impressive share of the local students (AMU 2014). This would lead to a simple observation that the demographic composition of the location may not contribute to a proportionate increase in the intake of students. Therefore, the myth that Muslim majority areas are apt locations for the expansion of AMU needs to be re-examined. 

The special centres have initiated academic instructions in different programmes. The spectrum of courses is limited to an undergraduate programme in law, and postgraduate programmes in business administration and teacher education. The AMU administration appointed a consultancy firm to prepare a detailed project report and a feasibility report, so as to complete governmental requirements. However, this was shelved in the subsequent years. It is a known fact that all the three centres have had unforeseen administrative hurdles in their initial phase. Though the special centres derived authority from the university framework, the major chunk of their resources came from the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) under a separate expenditure head since it was conceived to be a central government project. This explains the variations in the utilisation of funds. It is obvious that the MHRD steers the operation, so much so that the growth of the centres is left to its mercy. The MHRD under the NDA regime took a cynical and hostile position by portraying the AMU special centres as illegal (India Today 2016). The row over the issue remains inconclusive as the reports from the special centres refer to lack of funds for infrastructural development.

Since the special centres have already been branded as a political investment for Muslim education, it is an important concern whether they are growing in the way they ought to have done. The AMU and MHRD are still ambiguous about strategic priorities and the institutional road map. Excited with the scope of this initiative, the vice-chancellors of AMU projected it as another central minority university in the making for the 12th Plan period, without realising that the minority status for AMU itself is a point of contention in court (India Today 2014). 

 

Conclusions

“Syntax of space” for educational activities is a critical component in a pluralistic and multicultural social setting. It can convey two mutually exclusive premises of social cohesion namely compartmentalisation and integration. Compartmentalisation may occur when an institution's road map falsely leans on an unhistorical mapping between communal identities and the institution's strategic objectives. In a way, it allows one to justify the space for Hindu and Muslim gullies as an inevitable form of social existence. It is not unreasonable to foresee its impact on all stakeholders including the civic society that are directly or indirectly associated with the initiative. 

Access to education is a sufficient and necessary condition for any social segment for benefiting from emerging opportunities in a developing economy. Similar to space, the concept of education as a tool for empowerment also has inbuilt contradictions—it can lead to emancipation from the deprivation in terms of opportunities and it can also create compartments in a pluralistic society. It depends on the way it is organised to suit the requirements of diversity. The diversity index  is the mandatory corridor for the celebration of heterogeneous and multicultural social identities. The Sachar Committee Report (GoI 2006) rightly remarks, “There is an urgent need to recognise diversity in residential, work, and educational spaces,” and certainly a conceptualisation of a working space for minority initiatives in a diverse demographic environment is required. It will bring in an unending dialogue among the diverse groups through a symbiotic existence which will eliminate the chances of being prejudiced against alien cultural identities. Unfortunately, the special centres do not subscribe to this process in terms of identification of location, although their doors are open to all regardless of gender and religion. 

Given the situation, a supportive gesture is needed to nurture the centres to realise their declared national priorities. In the years to come, the AMU special centres cannot be showcased as a post-dated cheque drawn in favour of Muslim upliftment. 

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