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EDITORIAL: 1-15 June 2002

Crusade against madrasas

Minister of State for Home Vidyasagar Rao said in Parliament on 19 March that the government is thinking of enacting a new law to ‘check foreign contributions and their utilisation by madrasas and other organisations’. In the same speech he conceded that the government has ‘not yet carried out any survey on foreign funding to these institutions in the border areas of the country’. He also disclosed that there were 31,850 madrasas in the country and that 11,453 were in the border areas. He added that ‘Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence was trying to exploit and mislead students of these institutions’ (The Telegraph, Kolkata, 20 March 2002). 

Weeks later the same gentleman said in Kozhikode on April 9 that ‘terrorist activities’ are taking place in ‘some madrasas’ in the state of Kerala (The Hindu, 10 April 2002). Days later the Parliamentary Standing Committee on home affairs, on 24 April, sought ‘strict action against religious fundamentalist institutions which have come up in the country, particularly along India-Nepal border, with the help of Pakistan ISI for indoctrinating young minds to wage holy war against India’ (Kashmir Times, 25 April 2002). During the meetings of this very committee, GM Banatwala, MP, as he disclosed in our previous issue, pressed for information on the border madrasas only to be told by the home secretary that when they talk about such madrasas they mean the madrasahs on the other side of the border, that is in Nepal!

Mr Vidyasagar Rao again opened his mouth in Hyderabad on 18 May and announced that legal action will be taken against all madrasas and ‘religious places’ (read: mosques) which indulge in illegal activities’ (Akhbar-e Mashriq, New Delhi, 19 May 2002). 

Earlier, Group of Ministers of the Government of India had released on 23 May last year an extraordinary report on national security which may be considered the most important official document issued by the current BJP-led government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The report, titled ‘Reforming the National Security System,’ was prepared by the four-member Group of Ministers (GoM) which was headed by Home Minister LK Advani, the known BJP hawk. It identified madrasas as a source of threat to national security (see MG, 16 June 2001). 

Recently a VHP pointman, Togadia, used very objectionable words about Darul Uloom Deoband which played a well-known role in the freedom movement and was known for its opposition to the two-nation theory.

Hitheto the BJP people were attacking the border madrasas but now madrasas even in the far-flung Kerala frighten them. However, they do not offer any proof. No madrasa has been ever named or taken to court, no terrorist has been ever found in their premises, no texts have been found which teach terrorism. The government as seen in Mr Sagar’s own admission did not even make a survey about the so-called foreign aid to these madrasas, a fact which was also corroborated at about the same time by a minister of state under the ministry of human resource development.

Then how does it behove a government bound by the Constitution and laws to spread such lies and canards day in and day out about the educational institutions of the country’s largest religious minority? The idea, in fact, is to marginalise the community in all ways possible - something people of the same ilk tried in Gujarat recently and in the process brought bad name to the country in a way no one succeeded before. 

The agenda of the saffron tribe is to marginalise Muslims educationally, economically and politically. Madrasas offer free education (traditionally no madrasa charges educational fees and ‘poor’ students are offered free lodging and boarding subject to availability of funds). In this way hundreds of thousands of Muslim children become literate. They may not be at par with the high-profile English-medium schools but the education certainly arms them with knowledge, whets their brains and makes them aware of their rights and duties in society. It is the Muslim community through zakat, ushr, sadaqahs and outright contributions, which keeps these institutions alive since they came into existence after the collapse of the Mughal empire when the traditional educational system also collapsed and the British promoted new schools which taught English. Muslims, as a mark of rejection of the colonial powers, continued to boycot English and English-medium schools for about a century until Sir Syed Ahmad Khan convinced them to review this policy.

If the madrasas are closed down or curtailed or if their natural expansion and development, in keeping with the growth of the Muslim population, is stopped, hundreds of thousands of Muslim children will be denied the opportunities of free education. As a result, they will take to menial labour, suffer from unemployment or even take recourse to anti-social activities. But then this is exactly what the saffron brigade wants: marginalise them as much as possible and if they take to crime there is TADA and POTA even for petty criminals provided they are Muslims.

It is time people who care about the country stopped this dirty game and told the current reckless rulers to offer proof for what they claim or shut up. It is time also for Muslim organisations to take these irresponsible officials to courts to force them to come up with evidence to back what they claim or keep their mouths firmly shut. Their vested interests and ocean of hate should not be allowed to cripple the country’s largest minority.
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