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Karnataka Government’s Decision Threatens Minority Educational Rights

The Karnataka government’s decision to remove the student quota in minority educational institutions threatens to weaken the autonomy and identity of minority communities and subverts the fundamental rights of minorities as guaranteed by Article 30.

 

– Dr. Thouseef Madikeri

The Karnataka government recently decided to repeal a provision that reserved 25% of seats for students from minority communities in minority educational institutions, sparking widespread debate and controversy. While the action aims to loosen regulations, it raises serious questions about its alignment with the values enshrined in Article 30 of the Indian Constitution.

Whenever political leadership changes, there is often a renewed discussion about the minority status and reservations in minority-run schools and colleges. This has been a recurring theme in India, illustrated by the recent government decision to eliminate the mandatory 25% reservation for minorities in minority colleges in Karnataka.

For instance, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) claimed minority institution status in 2005 when it reserved 50% of seats for Muslim students in postgraduate medical courses. In the Dr. Naresh Agarwal v. Union of India (2005) case, the Allahabad High Court revoked this reservation policy, arguing that AMU did not qualify as a minority institution, in line with the S. Azeez Basha Judgement. This decision was challenged, and the Supreme Court put the reservation scheme on hold in 2006. The Modi Government, elected in 2014, did not recognize AMU’s minority status and withdrew from the appeal in 2016, leaving the University to pursue the matter on its own. Currently, a seven-judge bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud is deliberating the case.

Similarly, in 2011, the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) granted Jamia Millia Islamia minority status. However, in 2018, the Center reversed its stance and challenged this classification, presenting a new argument to the Delhi High Court.

Government data shows that minorities’ Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) is lower than the national average. This raises the question of why there is resistance to providing Muslims with 50% of the seats in two minority institutions, given the lower enrollment of Muslim students in higher education.

Article 30 of the Indian Constitution protects the rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice, preserving the linguistic and cultural diversity of India’s minority populations. This clause is crucial for minorities to use education to preserve their culture and identity. Minority educational institutions, founded and run by members of minority communities, are vital in ensuring economically disadvantaged youth have access to education.

Significant Supreme Court decisions, such as S.P. Mittal v. Union of India (1983) and State of Kerala v. Mother Provincial (1970), have reaffirmed the importance of maintaining the minority character of these institutions. The Court has upheld the rights of minority institutions to admit students from diverse backgrounds within appropriate bounds, emphasizing that this should not come at the expense of the institution’s minority character, as stressed in the P.A. Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra (2005) case. Therefore, state governments can fix the percentage of reserved seats for minority students in minority institutions.

The Karnataka government’s decision raises concerns about the viability of this constitutional safeguard. By eliminating the mandate to reserve seats for minority students, the government risks weakening the foundation of minority educational institutions, which play a crucial role in ensuring educational access for economically disadvantaged minority youth.

The government justified eliminating the 25% quota by citing the lack of admissions from minority community members. However, it is the responsibility of these institutions to offer free education or scholarships to economically disadvantaged minority students if high fees deter them from enrolling. Under Article 30, minority institutions must develop their communities through education, and failure to do so defeats the purpose of their minority status. The presence of minority community students is essential to maintaining the fundamental meaning of minority identity.

Minority institutions must ensure their policies reflect the values of diversity and equal access to education. By offering scholarships or free education to economically disadvantaged minority students, these institutions can fulfill their responsibility to promote the growth and empowerment of their communities. Cooperation between the government and educational institutions is imperative to remove barriers to education for minority students, potentially involving changes to fee schedules, increased scholarship options, and outreach initiatives.

The Karnataka government’s decision sets a precedent that could embolden other minority institutions to disregard their obligation to reserve seats for minority students, undermining Article 30’s objective. This provision was instituted to safeguard the educational autonomy and cultural preservation of minority communities, ensuring their equitable representation in educational institutions. The decision jeopardizes this foundational principle and risks diminishing educational opportunities for minority groups across the state. Therefore, it is imperative for the government to reconsider its decision to uphold the constitutional guarantees of minority rights and educational parity.

This decision by the Karnataka Government could lead prestigious minority institutions to potentially negate reserved seats for minorities, further exacerbating concerns about the erosion of fundamental rights under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution. The ruling also raises questions about the rationale for granting minority status to educational institutions that do not adequately support the needs of minority groups.

The implications of this decision extend beyond legal and constitutional issues, affecting thousands of schools and institutions and significantly impacting Karnataka’s social and educational landscape. Minority communities who have historically relied on these institutions to preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage could lose access to essential educational resources.

There are significant constitutional issues with the Karnataka government’s decision to remove the student quota in minority educational institutions. It threatens to weaken the autonomy and identity of minority communities and subverts the fundamental rights of minorities as guaranteed by Article 30. The government must reevaluate this choice in light of its constitutional responsibilities and the wider ramifications for social cohesion and educational justice.

[Dr. Thouseef Madikeri is CEO, Shaheen Group of Institutions and Former Director, Centre for Educational Research and Training, New Delhi]

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