Jamia was established in 1920 by a group of nationalist Muslim intelligentsia at Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh). Its campus shifted from Aligarh to Delhi in 1925 and the foundation stone of the present campus was laid on 1 March 1930. Since then, the university has expanded and become known as a premier educational institution of the country. Recognising its contributions in the field of teaching, research and extension work, the University Grants Commission (UGC) bestowed the “deemed university” status to it in 1962, and it was designated a Central University in 1988. The journey from Aligarh to Okhla (Delhi), not only presents the physical expansion of Jamia, but also presents a lesson for those who want to build educational institutions for the nation. It is therefore not surprising that Rabindranath Tagore once called the University “one of the most progressive educational institutions of the country”.
Jamia and the Nationalist Alternative
Jamia was conceived as the National Muslim University in October 1920 on the campus of the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College set up by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan at Aligarh. Since its inception in 1892, the Aligarh College had produced an elite and middle class leadership that was actively involved with the nationalist movement in one manner or the other. The landed gentry connected with the Aligarh College had helped to form the All India Muslim League in 1906. At the same time, the educated and secular Muslim intelligentsia from the college was associated with the khilafat and non-cooperation movements led by Gandhiji and whose main plank of political mobilisation was Hindu-Muslim unity. The changing character of the nationalist movement in the Gandhian leadership had its impact on those connected with the Aligarh College. The syndicate of the college proclaimed that it had been founded to turn out “worthy and useful subjects of the British Crown”. In contrast, freedom fighters like, Mohammed Ali (the khilafat leader and the first vice-chancellor) and Hakim Ajmal Khan wanted to build an educational institution which would serve to inculcate both, modern education and nationalist ideals in students from all communities, particularly the Muslims. They also actively opposed the “two nation theory” propagated by the Muslim League. This stand brought about a split between the Muslim intelligentsia and the Jamia was born out of this ideological conflict. The formation of Jamia was supported by Gandhiji and Tagore who had himself initiated such an effort in Shanti Niketan. The start, which was made in Krishna Ashram of the Aligarh College campus, was also a difficult one with lack of funds and infrastructure. The new university demonstrated that a society with diverse cultures could be groomed into a modern nation on the basis of a shared culture and perspective. In Jamia, Hindu, Muslim and other students not only studied together, they also ate and lived together in a Spartanlifestyle. Teachers came from all over the country and lived the same simple lifestyles. The use of ‘khaddar’ for uniforms epitomised the nationalist principle that was to follow throughout its development.
In 1924, after the withdrawal of khilafat, the institution faced a serious threat of closure. It then moved to Delhi and its reins were handed over to Dr Zakir Husain who aptly remarked: “The biggest objective of Jamia is to prepare a roadmap for the future of Indian Muslims with the religion of Islam at its core and to fill that roadmap with the colour of the civilisation of India in such a way that it merges with the colours of the life of the common man.” Jamia survived this transitional phase with the active support and involvement of leaders like Hakim Ajmal Khan, M.A. Ansari, Abid Husain and Mohammad Mujeeb who shared Zakir Husain’s vision for the institution. This phase of Jamia’s development was characterised by the equal sacrifices that were made by the staff and students of the university, and were ably aided by Gandhiji in their fund collection.
Jamia: A reflection of a self reliant modern and secular nation
From its inception, the Jamia had catered to students from disadvantaged backgrounds (in contrast to the elite Aligarh College) and its course curriculum was suited to meet the needs of such students. The medium of instruction and learning was Hindi, Urdu and English, and by 1937, when the Jamia campus had already shifted to Okhla, the university was an active participant in spreading Gandhiji’s idea of nai talim which was popularly known as the ‘Wardha Scheme’. Under the leadership of Zakir Husain, the chief architect of Wardha Scheme, Jamia started the “Book Bank” project, the “Village (dehat) Project”, and “Subzi Mandi Project”. They also started programmes on sehat aur safai (health and hygiene), kapda (weaving), carpentry and soap making where students learnt the merits of combining manual labour along with broadening their intellectual horizons. Vocational training and school education became one of the cornerstones of Jamia education and models for innovative teaching. At the threshold of independence, Jamia was emerging as a dynamic and unique institution that aspired for support from the independent Indian government. The trials and tribulations of a newly formed nation were also reflected in Jamia, which faced enormous financial difficulties in this period. However, the coping strategies used by the administration, staff and students themselves reflected the values of self-reliance and democratic functioning that were to form the core principles of Nehruvian India. Nehru assigned many roles to the founders of Jamia: both Zakir Husain and Mujeeb were inducted into the Planning Commission to develop a plan for integrated education. But despite these contributions to national development, they were forced to fight hard for a university status.
It was in 1962 that Jamia became a deemed university recognised by the University Act, 1956 under the leadership of Mohammad Mujeeb, “At last Jamia employees were able to draw regular salaries”. By 1963, regular teaching programmes like masters in history and education, and undergraduate programmes in the sciences were started. Thereafter, in 1969 doctoral programmes were started. The emergence of university as a premier institution of learning was recognised in 1988 when it was accorded the status of a Central University. Today, Jamia Millia Islamia is an ensemble of a multi layered educational system which covers all aspects of schooling, undergraduate and postgraduate education. The university recognises that teaching and research are complementary activities that can advance its long-term interest. It has large Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Engineering & Technology, Education, Humanities & Languages, Architecture & Ekistics, Fine Arts, Law and Dentistry Faculties; it has well known Centre of Mass Communication. Jamia Millia Islamia has also started several research centres that have given an edge to Jamia in terms of critical research in various areas. Obviously, these initiatives aim to promote new and emerging areas of research and programmes that can offer opportunities to its students and teachers to expand their horizons. The Jamia Millia Islamia conducts Undergraduate, Postgraduate, M.Phil. and Ph.D. as well as Diploma and Certificate courses. The number of students in the university is 14,729 of which 7,407 are enrolled in undergraduate courses, 2,661 in postgraduate, 1,501 in M.Phil/Ph.D and 3,160 in Diploma/Certificate courses.
Jamia Millia Islamia, as before, continues to cater to the interests of students from all communities, but also aims to meet the particular needs of the disadvantaged sections of the Muslim society. True to the legacy of its founders, it continues to support measures for affirmative action and foster the goals of building a secular and modern system of integrated education. Thus, Jamia Millia Islamia is constantly learning from its history to negotiate the new and emerging challenges facing a nation of the twenty first century.