What is the Legal Dispute Surrounding the Minority Status of Aligarh Muslim University?

By Md. Arif Imam

Published on: February 9, 2024 at 12:08 IST

The legal dispute over the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is a complex issue rooted in its historical establishment and constitutional interpretation. This article explores the ongoing case before the Supreme Court of India regarding whether AMU qualifies as a minority educational institution under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution. It delves into the historical background of AMU’s establishment by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in 1875 and the subsequent legal amendments post-independence.

The article examines key arguments presented by both sides, including the interpretation of the AMU Act of 1920 and the implications of the 1967 Supreme Court judgment in S Azeez Basha v Union of India. Moreover, it highlights the significance of Article 30 in protecting the educational rights of religious and linguistic minorities and its application to AMU’s minority status.

The AMU (Aligarh Muslim University) minority status case is a legal dispute that spins around that whether AMU can be recognized as a minority educational institution under Article 30 of the Constitution of India or not. 

The case is currently being heard by a 7-judge Constitution Bench of supreme court of India comprising the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice Surya Kant, Justice JB Pardiwala, Justice Dipankar Datta, Justice Manoj Misra and Justice Satish Chandra which will also decide whether the decision by five judge bench of  K.N. Wanchoo,  R.S. Bachawat, V. Ramaswami, G.K. Mitter, K.S. Hegde in S Azeez Basha v Union of India (1967), where the Court held that AMU was not a minority institution, should be overruled or not and also examining the Allahabad HC’S rulling of 2006(The Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh Vs. Malay Shukla and another) in which Allahabad high court said that AMU is not an minority institution. 

The case has been argued for 8 days, where in 1967, the Supreme Court held that AMU was “established” through the enactment of a law, the Aligarh Muslim University Act, 1920. This meant, according to the Court, that AMU does not qualify for minority status as it was not established by the Muslim community.[1]

However, Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan from the side of argued that there is a contradiction in the Azeez Basha decision, in which the apex court had held that in order for degrees from the university to be valid, the university would have to be recognized by a statute (such as the AMU Act). 

Further, the Court also held that recognition by a statute would strip AMU of its minority status. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has argued that Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) voluntarily relinquished its minority status to the British government during colonial times. He contends that AMU positioned itself as a “loyalist” institution, aligning with the British authorities, unlike “nationalist” institutions such as Jamia Millia Islamia University, which opposed and condemned British rule. [2]This surrender of rights, he said, was recognized in Azeez Basha. The verdict on the case is yet to be announced by the Supreme Court of India[3].

ALIGARH MUSLIM UNIVERSITY popularly known as AMU), it secures its position in India’s list of the most prestigious educational institutions which is located in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. It has a very inspiring and rich history connects with us to the time of pre-independence era where after the revolt of 1857 popularly known as sepoy mutiny against the British occupation there was an esteemed personality who saw the need for education in his fellow Muslim community as he saw the lack of education in the Muslim community.

He was one of the early explorers who really acknowledged the critical role of education in the upliftment of the Muslim community where there was significant poverty and backwardness and this led him to establish different schools. He instituted Scientific Society in 1863 to develop a scientific temperament along the Muslims and to familiarize with the western education and on 24th of May 1875 Sir Syed founded the Madarsatul Uloom in Aligarh[4] and then he established the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College after his visit to Oxford and Cambridge University in London with aim to developed and establish a college with provides western quality education without compromising the core Islamic values.

Then, keeping the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College as center, the Aligarh Muslim University was established by the Aligarh Muslim University Act, 1920 which played a key role in upliftment of Muslim community over India and produced various reputed alumni in every field even the 3rd president of India Zakir Hussain was the alumni of this esteemed institution and that’s how over the years it secured its place India’s one the prominent institution in terms of quality education.

Article 30 of the Indian Constitution is one of the most crucial provisions of the constitution that protects the educational rights of religious and linguistic minorities in India. It falls under the category of Fundamental Rights, which further elevates its gravity and also ensures certain protections for communities to establish and administer educational institutions by their own choice.

The verbatim of Article 30 is as follows-

30. Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions[5].—

(1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

[(1A) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, referred to in clause (1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause.]

(2) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language

Article 30 reflects the constitution’s commitment to diversity and the protection of minorities rights of education. It plays a crucial role in cultivating the cultural and educational autonomy of minority communities, contributing to the secular era of the Indian nation.

Some of the key features of article 30:

  • Right to Establish Educational Institutions
  • Right to Administer Educational Institutions
  • Non-Discrimination in Granting Aid
  • Applicability to Religious and Linguistic Minorities
  • Exception to the Fundamental Right

The connection between Article 30 and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) revolves around the legal debate over whether AMU qualifies for minority status under this constitutional provision or not, this status is necessary for any minority institution to avails the protection and benefits come with the status of a minority institution like –

  1. The institute in free to formulate their admission procedures
  2. They do not have to maintain reservation in employment or admissions for Schedule castes, Schedule tribes and OBCs as required to be done by other educational institutions.
  3. The control over employee in minority educational institutions have much greater powers than other institutions. like in the selection of professors and head of the minority educational institution can have their own selection committee.
  4. In matters of admission of students, minority educational institutions can have reservation of up to 50 per cent for students of their community.

[Note- these can subjects to the rules and regulations, made by National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions and the different state regulation as this topic is in concurrent list of the constitution]

AMU was established by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in 1875 with the primary aim of modernizing Muslim education in India without compromising the core Islamic values. Over the years, a legal question arose as to whether AMU, despite being a public university, could be considered a minority institution, primarily serving the educational interests of the Muslim community.

The debate over AMU’s minority status is very complex, since it involves the historical context of its establishment, its founding principles, and its current legal and administrative structure. While Article 30 provides for the rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions, the specific application of this provision to AMU has been a subject of legal and constitutional interpretations. The issue will continue to be a matter of legal and public discourse in Indi unless the apex court releases the verdict on this issue where the verdict has been reserved.

Pre Independence

  • 1875- Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College established by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan
  • 1920- The current British government’s central legislative assembly paused ALIGARH MUSLIM UNIVERSITY ACT 1920 (AMU ACT 1920) by this it became a central university and then The Government of India informed the association that a sum of rupees thirty lakhs should be collected to establish the university. Therefore, a Muslim University Foundation Committee was started and it collected the necessary funds. The contributions were made by Muslims as well as non-Muslims[6].. then the Muslim community collected the amount from different sources and people from all the faiths whether Islamic and non-Islamic faith and that’s how they got the minority status and in the SECTION 23 of act it was prescribed that in the Court of University (The Head Management Of The University) will comprises of people only from the Muslim faith and only they will hold position there none from any non-Islamic background, and the story continued till to the independence of our country.

Post independence

  • In 1951 the Act was amended as to quash the mandatory education of Islam for the enrolled students and also removed the provision of Section 23 which prescribed that only Muslims were allowed to be in the Court of University.
  • In 1965 again there was an amendment by which the Court of the university was then declared as not the apex body of the university but the apex body will be nominated by the president called The Visitors and for Democratization the administration there were distribution of power between various departments and groups in the university.
  • But 1967 the university opposed the 1965 amendment and knocked the doors of the Supreme Court which later become on the landmark judgment of the supreme court as S. Azeez Basha Vs Union Of India ,1967 case where the petitioner contended that there rights of being a minority institutions under article 30(1) has been violated the hon’ble apex court held That university is an established by central legislation so it cannot be a minority institutions so no rights of minority institutions have been violated and the court said that they it may be possible that Muslim community my have great efforts behind establishment of the AMUACT 1920 but this doesn’t mean that it was established by Muslims.
  • In 1981this matters again ignited as current government passed an amendment in the AMU ACT in 1981 to nullify the S.C judgment and resisted the minority status of the university.
  • In 2005 again this issue ignited as when AMU reserved 50% of the seats for Muslims in post graduate medical degree program as claiming their minority institution status and then this was further challenged in Allahabad high court in the case of Dr Naresh Agrwal Vs Union of India the petitioners argued over S Azeez Basha judgment and Allahabad high court quashed the reservation policy and reinforced the Azeez basha’s judgment as saying AMU was not an minority institution.
  • In 2006-in response to that AMU again reached the door of Supreme Court and a set of eight petitions, including one from the Union government, challenged the High Court’s decision before the Supreme Court.
  • In 2016-, the NDA government informed the SC that it was withdrawing the appeal filed by the government, saying, “as the executive government at the Centre, we can’t be seen as setting up a minority institution in a secular state[7].”
  • On February 12, 2019, a three-judge Bench presided by the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi referred the matter to a seven-judge Bench[8]. On Tuesday, the Bench, comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justices Sanjiv Khanna, Surya Kant, JB Pardiwala, Dipankar Datta, Manoj Misra and Satish Chandra Sharma, started hearing the case[9].
  • In 2024- after hearing the case from both the sides Supreme Court reserved the decision and its yet to come

AMU was established as result of merger of three groups[10]

  1. First one was associated with the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College
  2. Second was associated with collection of funds (30lakh rupee)
  3. The third one was Muslim University foundation committee

They all were dissolved and merged with their all rights and properties to make this university through central legislation and the keeping core of the university as AMO college which was then under Allahabad university so up to the time of passing of legislation there was no Aligarh Muslim university in existence which was controlled by Muslims and the reason of its existence is the central legislation so it cannot be a minority institution it was same fact which was instead by the apex court in Azeez Basha case that the university was neither established by Muslims nor administered by them as its existence is only after legislation introduced by the British as said by the Court that there may be possibility that community have their great efforts behinds the enactment of this legislation but that does not conclude the fact that university was established and controlled by the Muslims.

The central government clarifies that only the name of the university was decided by the parliament and the university was established by the Muslims by their own choice of educational institutions further the government clarified that AMU and AMO college are same that’s the reason behind why 1967 judgment was nullified by the amendment in 1981.Iin that amendment the word established was removed from preamble of the act to clarify that 1920 act was not meant to establish the AMU university.

The legal dispute surrounding the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) underscores the complexities of constitutional interpretation and historical context. As the Supreme Court of India deliberates on this matter, it is crucial to consider the implications for minority educational institutions and their autonomy in administering and establishing educational institutions.

The verdict will have far-reaching consequences for the rights of religious and linguistic minorities enshrined in Article 30 of the Indian Constitution. Regardless of the outcome, it is imperative to uphold the principles of diversity and inclusivity in India’s educational landscape while respecting the foundational values of minority communities. The resolution of this case will shape the future of minority rights and educational autonomy in India, marking a significant milestone in the country’s legal and constitutional journey.

  1. Aligarh Muslim University minority status case: 3 key legal issues argued before the Supreme Court | Explained News – The Indian Express
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan | Founder AMU
  5. Law & Justice2.pmd (indiacode.nic.in)
  6. Aligarh Muslim University – Wikipedia
  7. What is the long-running legal dispute over Aligarh Muslim University’s minority character? | Explained News – The Indian Express
  8. What is the long-running legal dispute over Aligarh Muslim University’s minority character? | Explained News – The Indian Express
  9. What is the long-running legal dispute over Aligarh Muslim University’s minority character? | Explained News – The Indian Express
  10. Album List – Drishti IAS

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