This goes against the original charter of these institutions from the time of the British Raj
By Faizan Mustafa
Recently, a University Grants Commission (UGC) panel suggested that the words Muslim from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Hindu from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) should be dropped. By suggesting this, the panel exceeded its brief, revealed its ignorance about the historic origin and unique character of these two institutions, and showed that its members have no idea that the Indian State has a secular character even though it spends on religion.
The movement for setting up denominational universities in India such as BHU and AMU has an interesting history, and it wasn’t easy for its founders to do this.
For example, Varanasi-based Central Hindu College — which later became BHU — was established by Hindus for their educational advancement. This is because despite their numerical superiority, Hindus felt powerless under the British and were worried about the preservation of their culture. They were also keen to have an institution free from governmental control, where unlike State-run institutions, religious instructions could be given along with secular education.
After the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, Muslims felt sidelined and were convinced that their salvation was in western education. At the same time, they were clear that it should not come at the cost of Islamic education. Syed Ahmad Khan established Madarsatul-uloom Musalmanan-e-Hind in 1875 in Aligarh. Two years later, it was converted into the Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO), primarily meant to cater to the educational needs of Muslims.
On March 26, 1906, Lt Governor of Uttar Pradesh James La Touche wrote to educationist and politician Madan Mohan Malviya that ‘if the cultured classes throughout India are willing to establish a Hindu University with its colleges clustered round it, they have my best wishes for their success.’ His successor JP Hewett in a letter to the Government of India (GoI) dated January 16, 1909, stated that “he is against the denominational universities and even Indian Universities Commission in Para 32 of its report had opposed such an idea”. The GoI too in February 1909 agreed with this view but advised La Touche not to quote the GoI. On July 18, 1911, GoI sanctioned negotiations on the draft constitution of a Hindu university.
Malviya had the huge task of raising funds for the proposed university. Lord Charles Hardinge on September 1, 1911, called Malviya ‘a real rascal’. Maharaja of Darbhanga Rameshwar Singh too wrote to the GoI against Malviya. He also admitted that he has to support the movement as he could hurt the sentiments of Hindus but the government must ask Malviya to refrain from giving the impression of governmental approval to his scheme.
Syed Ahmad Khan was also opposed by the clergy and five fatwas were issued against him. Subsequently Muslim nationalists opposed conceding any governmental supervision in the proposed Muslim university.
On the submission of the draft constitution of the Moslem University by the GoI (November 2, 1911), secretary of state replied February 23, 1912, that “I observe that in the draft scheme the University is entitled The Moslem University, or The Moslem University, Aligarh. This title should be altered to ‘the University of Aligarh.”
The copy of this letter was sent to promoters of the Hindu university also.
The promoters of both universities were disappointed. The Darbhanga maharaja, president of the Hindu University Society, wrote to Harcourt Butler, member–in-charge of education, GoI that “the new name will not appeal to the Hindu public at large”. He added that the name will not change the essential Hindu character of the university.
On behalf of the Constitution Committee of Moslem University, Raja of Mahmoodabad wrote to Butler (August 13, 1912) that ‘in the concluding para of your letter you tell me that the secretary of state has decided that the future University shall be styled as University of Aligarh. This decision has caused the committee much pain, and in view of the fact that it goes against the long cherished and deeply felt sentiment of the entire Muslim community, the committee trusts that it will also be reconsidered”.
Viceroy Lord Hardinge in his letter to the secretary of state(October 7, 1912) stated that the secretary of state’s decision will lead to ‘insurmountable difficulty’ for the government and that “there is undoubtedly very strong opinion that objection to word Moslem is being taken by many as part of policy of Christian nations to curb Islam. We suggest a Moslem University and should Hindu University materialise we suggest for that Banares Hindu University. These names grow out of existing names of Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College and Central Hindu College and unless there are objections of overwhelming weight we think it a concession that might well be made to local sentiment”.
In his reply (November 29, 1912), the secretary of state conceded ground: “As regards your first recommendation I agree that as the title Aligarh Moslem University would be welcomed by the Muhammadan community, and is in accordance with the style of Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, there is no sufficient reason to object”.
On July 10, 1913, Marquess of Crewe, secretary of state, also wrote that ‘secular education has not produced results so satisfactory that effort to combine with it religious instruction – difficult though the task may be – shall be discouraged. Denominational universities were needed as both the communities wanted to combine secular education with the instructions in respective religions.
Butler finally wrote to Maharaja of Darbhanga on July 18, 1914, that ‘in order to meet the sentiments of the subscribers it has been conceded that the university shall be called the ‘Banares Hindu University’.
The GoI was clear that BHU was not a government-established institution like the universities at Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. A Hindu member of Governor-General-in Council was asked to pilot the BHU Bill in 1915. Similar honour was given to a Muslim member to introduce the AMU Bill in 1920.
All the properties gifted or willed by people in favour of the Central Hindu College and the MAO College on conversion into universities became properties of the respective universities.
So changing the name of these universities will not only go against the sentiments and wishes of those departed souls but will also be contrary to law of gift and will.
The AMU, in fact, has been denied by the AMU Act, 1920, even the power to change the names of MAO college buildings.
The BHU was established by the Hindus and was meant to be an institution for the benefit of the community. Its apex body — university court — was to consist of only Hindus and the Senate was to have three-fourth Hindus. Similarly AMU was conceived as a Muslim institution and its court consisted of only Muslim members.
What the British government could not to do, the Indian State should not try to do. Such a move failed in 1965.
The Centre deserves appreciation for negating the UGC’s proposal and saying that it is committed to retain the original nomenclature of BHU and AMU.
The Centre must now revive the democratic functioning of the Benaras Hindu University by restoring BHU Act, which has been under suspension for decades. Similarly the minority character of the Aligarh Muslim University must be preserved.
(Faizan Mustafa is vice-chancellor, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad can be reached at [email protected])