Monday, December 25, 2006

Religion-based IITs, IIMs: Divisive, Unworkable

I just read an article in the Indian Express about a wishlist handed over to the HRD Ministry by a set of Muslim MP's. The wishlist makes for scary reading.
In a significant development after the tabling of the Sachar report, Muslim MPs, cutting across party lines, today handed over a wishlist of sorts to Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh: IITs and IIMs exclusively for Muslims, 5,000 schools, 2 lakh scholarships and more campuses of the Aligarh Muslim University across the country.
A senior HRD official, present at the meeting, said, "The MPs said since IITs and IIMs have less than 2 per cent of Muslim students, the HRD Ministry should create IITs and IIMs exclusively for Muslim children." Urdu schools, they also demanded, should be given adequate infrastructure support. "Minority-run societies and NGOs, if they wish to open schools, should be given CBSE affiliation without any delay," an MP demanded. The MPs said that these suggestions should get reflected in the forthcoming budget as well as the Eleventh Plan. The HRD Ministry panel on Muslim education is expected to submit a report by January 31.

Why does such an exclusivist minority viewpoint come into being? If such institutions come up, do the proponents not realise how divisive such structures will be? Will people actually flock to these places to recruit?
What is required is to push more students from the Muslim community through the schooling phase (primary and secondary), and given that intelligence and abilities do not look at religion, they will be there in the numbers for any institute. That should be the focus. But an institute especially for a religion? What will be next ? Hindus / Jains / Buddhists / Christians / Parsees all claiming their own separate institutions? All these in turn claiming that teachers should also be from their own religions?
Reserving an institution on a religious basis ensures that students who pass out from there do not get the mixed flavour that comes with interacting with other students from different backgrounds. It is an incomplete education, and not fully equipped to meet the needs of a modern workforce. The biggest fear is that nowhere did I actually come across any view from a ruling party or supporting party leader that this is an unworkable plan and fraught with danger. I have indeed seen more views similar to this, trying to propose a short-term solution for something that needs sustained effort.
I would repeat, this is a very dangerous line that we are approaching. Once we cross such a line, we may actually agree to separate reservations on the basis of religion, and even separate parliamentary seats. After all, the principle remains the same! We could even talk about separate security officals, laws, etc. for areas where a specific religion is in a minority. This is a proposal that the HRD Ministry should junk, and instead concentrate on how actually to do something that makes a substantial difference.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:26 PM