Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Response to Khalid Anis Ansari's article on Jamia

This is my short response to the article "Ghettoes of the Mind: Khalid Anis Ansari on ‘minority status’ for Jamia Milia Islamia" published on Kafila.org

Dear Khalid,
While I agree with your most of your analysis, I have a serious problem with your concluding remarks about the “secularists ghetto” and Muslim elites etc. I am fed up with this argument that anyone who is against the reservation must be elitist (and you are not the only one who is saying this). Do you think that the "secular" Muslim elites are some kind of monolithic entity, and all cut-off from the ground reality? I have been observing the situation in Jamia very closely, and let me tell you that those who are religiously supporting the 50% quota are no less elitists themselves. I will obviously not give any names, but many of these are people with cushy jobs or powerful positions in the establishment. The progress of their careers (and often, vote-banks) depends on the implementation of minority status. Of course, it will benefit the poor or educationally “backward” Muslims too, but many others have their indirect stakes in it. The other question (which I raised in my earlier articles and blog - iamnotaminority.blogspot.com ) is that why are we so stuck with this one institution Jamia Millia? Why can’t Muslims de-centralize their claim of reservation by spreading it out to all institutions rather than just Jamia? Jamia’s quota will not address even a fraction of the recommendations made by Sachar report. Govt. will probably wash off its hands by saying “look, we’ve already given you 50% seats in Jamia – what else do you need?” One major argument often given in favour of the minority status is that the mainstream institutions are biased against Muslims, which may be true to a large extent. But my question is: by creating our own exclusive institution, do we want to bypass the prejudices in the mainstream institutions? “Let them remain communal or get even more communal, but let us create our own ideal place” – isn’t this exactly what was the motto of the 1947 Partition? To me frankly, Jamia’s minority status is nothing less than another Partition.

Yousuf Saeed, 22 March 2011

(Dear Shama Zaidi, just to share the information that Banaras Hindu University has departments of Urdu, Persian and Arabic where entire faculty and most students are Muslim.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Opposing reservation doesn’t mean opposing progress of Muslims

When I wrote why I am opposed to Jamia Millia’s Minority status, many friends liked my frank opinions but a lot of them also got angry with me, thinking that I am against the progress of the underprivileged Muslims who are not well equipped to compete in entrance exams and job interviews. Some friends also said that my views are coming from an elite Muslim who can afford to reject the minority status. Some mentioned that the Hindustan Times could happily carry my article since it served their “majoritarian” purpose, and the mainstream media always ignores the point of view of those who are campaigning for minority status. I respect all these opinions and would like to clarify my position here:

Firstly, I am not an elite Muslim - I come from an orthodox family living in a typical Muslim neighbourhood of Jamia Nagar with mosques around me and hundreds of newly migrated underprivileged Muslims as my neighbours. I received my entire education at Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, the two institutions seeking minority status. Secondly, I am fully aware of the difficulties the Muslims, especially from poor or lower middle class families find in getting admissions or jobs in mainstream institutions. I fully agree that a large number of Muslims need support and special advantage to get ahead in life – the families and surroundings they come from do not provide them the opportunities to get ahead in life. There are also complaints about some mainstream institutions being biased against Muslims – they deliberately prevent the entry of Muslims and so on. All this has also been proven by the Sachar Committee Report hence I do not need to repeat it.

My point was that only Jamia Millia getting a blanket 50 percent reservation is not the best solution to uplift the condition of Muslims; and some Muslims celebrating its announcement should not project that all Muslims have readily welcomed it. A public debate is probably required before it can be implemented. Blanket reservations are easy and short-cut methods of a community’s progress, but do not address many other complex issues. I would like to show what problems I find with this special status, and what alternatives could have been tried:

- Demand for a quota/reservation for Muslims only in Jamia shows that we want all Muslims to remain limited only to Jamia and not try other institutions. If minority status is given to Jamia, will Muslim candidates be readily welcomed in other mainstream institutions? Won’t other institutions (like Delhi University) argue that now that Jamia has a 50% quota for Muslims, why should we prefer Muslims students in our institution?

- If the recommendations of Sachar Committee have to be implemented, why shouldn’t we seek a small (say 5 percent) quota for Muslims in all institutions for a better representation all over the country? Won’t that be a better solution than seeking a 50% quota only in Jamia? Why do all Muslims from the length and breadth of the country have to converge only at Jamia? Why shouldn’t we decentralize our demand for a quota?

- Demand for a 50% Muslim quota in Jamia does not address the problem of the Muslim OBCs, which is a major issue raised by the Sachar Committee. If the minority status is given to Jamia, will it have any special sub-quota for the Muslim OBCs? I know many of our friends might even say that there are no Muslim OBCs since Islam doesn’t believe in caste system.

- I agree that some people cannot progress without reservation. But as a student I have also seen what kind of social stigma or label one can acquire if you get admission or appointment through a quota. In your class or department, everyone who got admission through their merit always give you a different look. They may not say it in front of you, but in your absence they always refer to you as a boy or girl who came “via the quota.” This stigma can sometimes last your entire lifetime, and it is one of the biggest reasons why I hate to be called a “minority.” Of course, if I got admission through my merit, I can always be much more proud of my worth, and socialize more confidently. So why should we not be a part of the majority and lead more confident lives?

- In hushed conversations at Jamia, I overheard people saying that a Muslim quota is urgently required because “a large number of non-Muslims have recently been appointed as Jamia’s staff (especially in the previous VC’s tenure), and they will soon erase Jamia’s Muslim character.” I would like to make two points about this. (1) If you do a random count of the teaching staff in Jamia’s various departments today (see for instance the faculty lists supplied on JMI website) you will find as much as 76 percent staff with Muslim sounding names (some departments have up to 99 or 100 percent Muslims)! This is already way above the 50% quota being demanded. But a more important point is (2) why do we always look at non-Muslims as some kind of threat? And why is a competition with them always seen in communal terms? (Yes, the same questions can also be applied in some mainstream institutions outside Jamia where Muslims are seen as a “threat”). If a meritorious non-Muslim being a great expert in his/her field is appointed in Jamia, isn’t that a boon for Jamia’s students?

- I have often found this scenario in JMI as well as AMU: if a non-Muslim teacher tries to be hard or strict with the students in order to raise their quality of education, to get them to work harder or be punctual in the class etc., some Muslim students see his/her strictness as a communal attitude towards Muslims. On the other hand, a lax or easy-going Muslim teacher is seen as more freindly. Such sensitive issues never get discussed. My point is that Muslim or non-Muslim, whenever a competent teacher is employed in an institution, he/she may be genuinely interested in improving the condition of students. Why do we always have to doubt their intentions if they are not Muslim? If we do find a specific problem we can always make a complaint.

- I have always felt that instead of reservation what Muslims need is better preparation and coaching to get admission and jobs. I wonder why all the people who are crying about the plight of poor Muslims and campaigning for minority status cannot get together and start high standard coaching centres where underprivileged Muslims are given free or inexpensive training? Some efforts have been tried in this direction and have shown great results, such as the Hamdard Study Circle (Delhi) or even the Super 30 group in Patna from which one can learn so much. A much smaller example is a charity-based centre started in Zakir Nagar (near Jamia) by the alumni of Darul Uloom Deoband where a small group of graduates of the madrasa are trained each year, and manage to get admissions into many prime institutions and have even got jobs abroad. Why couldn’t Jamia Teachers Association or Jamia Old Boys Association devote their efforts in this direction? There can be hundreds of other innovative ideas and affirmative actions one could take to uplift the community instead of only demanding a minority status.

- Let us also not forget that the issue of reservation is used by all political parties to create their votebanks. Whether Congress, BJP, SP or whatever, some body will get political mileage out of Jamia’s minority status, and though they may not be interested in the long term development of Muslims. Let us not get fooled by them.

The above are my personal opinions and anyone is free to challenge them. I have no intentions of appealing in a court to impose my views on anyone, but would be happy if a healthy and productive dialogue could start. I would also be happy to take part in any affirmative action that allows us to improve ourselves. But I am still not convinced about demanding a quota as our birthright.


Yousuf Saeed
March 2, 2011,
New Delhi