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Should AMU’s Minority Status Tag Be Restored? 7-Judge SC Bench Hears Matter

To highlight the Islamic character of AMU, its counsel cited historical facts before the apex court.

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While hearing the case to determine the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Tuesday, 9 January, observed that an educational institute cannot be barred from minority status just "because it is regulated by a statute."

A seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising CJI Chandrachud, Justices Sanjiv Khanna, Surya Kant, JB Pardiwala, Dipankar Datta, Manoj Misra, and Satish Chandra Sharma, is hearing the matter. It was referred to the apex court bench by then-CJI Ranjan Gogoi-led bench in February 2019.

The matter dates back to 1967 when, in the S Azeez Basha vs Union of India case, the five-judge Constitution bench had ruled that AMU was "neither established nor administered by Muslim minority."

As a result, the court observed, the institute cannot enjoy the protections for minorities under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution, which allows minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.

Besides getting funds from the central government, a minority institution can reserve seats for admission based on religion or language.

While AMU's counsel has presented its argument before the apex court, the hearing will resume on Wednesday, 10 January.

Should AMU’s Minority Status Tag Be Restored? 7-Judge SC Bench Hears Matter

  1. 1. What Has AMU Argued?

    Appearing on behalf of AMU, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan asserted that the Azeez Basha verdict took a very narrow perspective of Article 30, adding that the right to administer an educational institute stems from the right to establish one.

    "What was the purpose of this (AMU) Act? It was to give Muslims access to education. We agree that minority educational institutions should not be ghettos, and we agree that it should be institutes of excellence. This university protects Urdu as a language and it is mentioned in schedule 8 as well."
    Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan as quoted by Bar and Bench

    To highlight the Islamic character of AMU, Dhavan cited historical facts including domes, use of deep green colour, Quranic inscriptions, and a Quranic verse in its motto. 

    "There was no doubt about its character at all. It cannot be said that the constitutional right to administer an institution cannot be asked to be surrendered unless its character is given up," Dhavan said.

    AMU also submitted in court that it has a university mosque, employs muezzins, and has separate departments for Islamic and Quranic studies as well as studies of Sunni theology, Shia theology, Arabic language and literature, Persian, and Urdu.  

    Expand
  2. 2.  Timeline of Events

    • In 1877, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – a Muslim reformer of pre-Independence India – founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College in Aligarh to impart British education alongside Islamic values.

    • In 1920, the Aligarh Muslim University Act was passed, after which MAO College and another Islamic university were grouped together to be a part of the Aligarh Muslim University.

    • In 1951 and 1965, several amendments were introduced in the AMU Act, 1920.

    • In 1967, the petitioners in the S Azeez Basha vs Union of India case argued that the amendments violated their right to establish and administer an educational institute protected under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution.

    • That same year, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court observed that since AMU was established by parliamentary legislation, it could not have been established by an individual or community. Hence, the apex court upheld the amendments to the AMU Act and said that the fundamental rights of the petitioners were not violated. 

    • In 1981, a division bench of the apex court, while hearing a separate matter – in the Anjuman-e-Rahmania vs District Inspector of Schools – questioned the correctness of the Azeez Basha ruling and referred the matter to a seven-judge bench, The Times of India reported.

    Expand
  3. 3.  What Is the Central Govt’s Stand?

    Even as the case was being heard by the seven-judge Supreme Court bench, several petitions were filed in the Allahabad High Court against AMU’s decision to reserve seats for Muslims. 

    In 2006, the Allahabad High Court held that AMU was not a minority institution and that reservation of seats for Muslim students in post-graduate courses was unconstitutional. 

    In addition to declaring that AMU was not a minority institution, the Allahabad High Court had struck down three amendments in the AMU (Amendment) Act, 1981.

    At that time, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre had supported the minority status of AMU and had challenged the Allahabad High Court verdict in the Supreme Court.

    However, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had withdrawn that appeal in 2016, saying that AMU was not a minority institution under the UGC Act, 1956.

    It was in February 2019 that a three-judge bench (headed by then-CJI Ranjan Gogoi) referred the matter to a seven-judge Supreme Court bench and sought definition of larger parameters for the granting of minority status to educational institutions.

    (With inputs from The Times of India and Bar and Bench)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Has AMU Argued?

Appearing on behalf of AMU, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan asserted that the Azeez Basha verdict took a very narrow perspective of Article 30, adding that the right to administer an educational institute stems from the right to establish one.

"What was the purpose of this (AMU) Act? It was to give Muslims access to education. We agree that minority educational institutions should not be ghettos, and we agree that it should be institutes of excellence. This university protects Urdu as a language and it is mentioned in schedule 8 as well."
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan as quoted by Bar and Bench

To highlight the Islamic character of AMU, Dhavan cited historical facts including domes, use of deep green colour, Quranic inscriptions, and a Quranic verse in its motto. 

"There was no doubt about its character at all. It cannot be said that the constitutional right to administer an institution cannot be asked to be surrendered unless its character is given up," Dhavan said.

AMU also submitted in court that it has a university mosque, employs muezzins, and has separate departments for Islamic and Quranic studies as well as studies of Sunni theology, Shia theology, Arabic language and literature, Persian, and Urdu.  

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 Timeline of Events

  • In 1877, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – a Muslim reformer of pre-Independence India – founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College in Aligarh to impart British education alongside Islamic values.

  • In 1920, the Aligarh Muslim University Act was passed, after which MAO College and another Islamic university were grouped together to be a part of the Aligarh Muslim University.

  • In 1951 and 1965, several amendments were introduced in the AMU Act, 1920.

  • In 1967, the petitioners in the S Azeez Basha vs Union of India case argued that the amendments violated their right to establish and administer an educational institute protected under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution.

  • That same year, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court observed that since AMU was established by parliamentary legislation, it could not have been established by an individual or community. Hence, the apex court upheld the amendments to the AMU Act and said that the fundamental rights of the petitioners were not violated. 

  • In 1981, a division bench of the apex court, while hearing a separate matter – in the Anjuman-e-Rahmania vs District Inspector of Schools – questioned the correctness of the Azeez Basha ruling and referred the matter to a seven-judge bench, The Times of India reported.

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 What Is the Central Govt’s Stand?

Even as the case was being heard by the seven-judge Supreme Court bench, several petitions were filed in the Allahabad High Court against AMU’s decision to reserve seats for Muslims. 

In 2006, the Allahabad High Court held that AMU was not a minority institution and that reservation of seats for Muslim students in post-graduate courses was unconstitutional. 

In addition to declaring that AMU was not a minority institution, the Allahabad High Court had struck down three amendments in the AMU (Amendment) Act, 1981.

At that time, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre had supported the minority status of AMU and had challenged the Allahabad High Court verdict in the Supreme Court.

However, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had withdrawn that appeal in 2016, saying that AMU was not a minority institution under the UGC Act, 1956.

It was in February 2019 that a three-judge bench (headed by then-CJI Ranjan Gogoi) referred the matter to a seven-judge Supreme Court bench and sought definition of larger parameters for the granting of minority status to educational institutions.

(With inputs from The Times of India and Bar and Bench)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:   Supreme Court   AMU   Allahabad High Court 

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