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Challenge for Secularism and Democracy

Malini Sood

Edited by Tahir Mahmood
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 293, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

If you want to understand the background to the recent brouhaha over the admission policy of St Stephen’s College, here is the book for you. Contributors to this volume—all eminent legal experts, scholars, judges, administrators, and educationists—weigh in with their analyses of what plagues minority education in South Asia. They describe the historical background of well-known minority educational institutions and the legal framework in which they evolved and developed, and examine the ramifications of various constitutional provisions and judicial decisions pertaining to minority education and what this means for secularism and democracy in India.   Tahir Mahmood, a reputed legal scholar in human rights, minority affairs, Islamic studies, and comparative family law, is eminently qualified as the volume editor. He was senior Professor of Law and Dean of the Law Faculty at Delhi University. He served as Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities (1996–99) and is now an expert member of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities.   In his introduction, ‘Educational Rights and Institutions of Minorities: International Norms and National Landscapes’, Mahmood notes that he has been the product of minority educational institutions throughout. At different stages of his career he has been associated with minority educational institutions in various capacities—as student, teacher, and member or chair of governing bodies, selection committees, and official bodies meant to exercise surveillance in regard to the legal rights and welfare of minorities. Yet he writes that he does not know for sure what rights relating to education and language the religious and linguistic minorities of India actually have under the law, or indeed in the eyes of the courts, and enjoy in practice. The answer to this question lies buried deep under a heap of legislative provisions, executive orders, judicial decisions, complaints from and about the concerned institutions, media reports, scholarly views and public opinion.   If a person of Mahmood’s experience and expertise can confess to uncertainty about this matter, one may imagine the confusion and ignorance of the rest of us. The problem of minority education deserves urgent attention, particularly in today’s competitive world where human resource development is fundamentally important for national development. Equally important is the state’s solemn obligation to ensure a sizeable presence of minorities in institutions of educational, professional, and vocational studies. This obligation, and the corresponding rights of minorities to have their rightful place in the state’s educational ...

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