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Throttling the madrasas in the name of security
By Syed Shahabuddin

Syed ShahabuddinOver the last few years there has been a systematic campaign to vilify the madrasas as dens of the ISI and as shelters for the terrorists and the militants. This vilification became increasingly shrill and loud with the participation of foreign nationals particularly Afghans and Pakistanis in Kashmir insurgency and the emergence of the Taliban (‘the students’) as the dominant political force in Afghanistan. One imagines that the association of some madrasas in Pakistan as the recruiting ground for the Taliban in Afghanistan and the so-called Mujahideen in Kashmir has made our policy planners nervous and apprehensive about the role that the madrasas in India may play, with their teaching and influence. Out of this distrust and suspicion, came the Central Scheme for the Modernization of Madrasas Education, which was lapped up by our well-meaning educationists and secular sympathizers without pausing to inquire into its genesis.

The ostensible object and purpose of the Scheme administered by the Ministry of Human Resource Development was to persuade the madrasas to revise their conventional curriculum to add ‘modern’ subjects – English, Hindi, Science, Mathematics and Social Studies including History and Geography. On the face of it, there can be no theoretical or ideological objection to the idea of reforming the madrasa curriculum. Indeed well- known madrasas have been evolving their curriculum with the times, ever since the beginning of the twentieth century, while keeping the focus on religious subjects. But one wondered at this sudden interest in upgradation of madrasas by the authorities which are reluctant to provide modern educational facilities, even at the primary level, in Muslim-concentration areas and which simply refuse to divulge available data on Muslim educational backwardness and which, by carefully manipulating the levers of power, change curricula, particularly related to language, syllabi, school culture and medium of instruction so as to make Muslim parents more and more reluctant to send their children to government schools.

The scheme had not had many takers, as the madrasas are not equipped to deal with the bureaucracy and comply with the plethora of rules and regulations, forms and reports. Thus, the total annual outlay under the scheme has been of the order of a few crores with a few hundred beneficiaries.

Then the National Council of Educational Research and Training undertook a study of existing curriculum in madrasas and published a report in the year 2000 based on data collected from some madrasas, most of them government-aided, from 3 states UP, MP and Kerala.

Again one wondered why madrasa education had suddenly become the target of so much academic attention although, to put the problem in proper perspective, no research has ever been conducted on the proportion of Muslim children of school age studying exclusively in madrasas in various states, and not for supplementary instruction as in Kerala.

However, the recent Report by the Group of Ministers of Reform of Internal Security has linked madrasa education with national security and thus let the cat out of the bag!

The report says: "Funded by Saudi and Gulf sources, many new madrasas have come up all over the country in recent years, especially in large numbers in the coastal areas of the West and in the border areas of West Bengal and the North East…Madrasa education is a part of a Muslim child’s religious tradition. Steps should be taken to encourage these institutions to add inputs on modern education also. Efforts should be made for providing increased facilities for modern education, particularly for the border areas where such facilities are lacking… The Central Sector Scheme for giving financial assistance for modernization of madrasa education… should be strengthened… A Central Advisory Board may be set up for madrasa education instead of leaving this critical matter to different State Level Advisory Boards. The Ministry of HRD should take necessary action in this regard."

The motive of the government largesse is clearly neither to benefit the madrasa students to become more employable and more useful to society, by not confining themselves to the vocations of Imam and Mudarris (teacher), nor to upgrade the standard of madrasa education. It is to penetrate the madrasa system, to monitor what goes on there, what is taught, whether the students are motivated to become militants and trained in the use of fire arms, whether the madrasas serve as shelters for the ISI! This explains the persistent and well-orchestrated propaganda against the madrasas (and the masjids) at the official level, with numerous searches and detentions of teachers and students on trumped up charges. None has been convicted so far.

The most dangerous proposal that the Group of Ministers has made now is that a Central Advisory Board of Madrasa Education may be set up under the Ministry of HRD. Obviously, the advisory role can be transformed gradually into a regulatory and control role, in the name of upgradation and uniformity of syllabus, standardization of education (e.g., in Bihar). Since the financial bait is there, some Madrasas – at least some management may fall for and accept official intrusion. One cannot help them.

However, the A.I. Deeni Talimi Council and other Muslim organizations like the Mushawarat, the Milli Council, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat-ul-Ulama owe it to the community to take the government proposal more seriously, caution the madrasas against it and ask the government not to impose an official regime on the madrasas – indeed to leave them alone. The community must reject government control over religious education.
They should consider the following questions:

» Does the government propose to ‘nationalize’ the madrasa system and bring it under its control?

» Does the government propose to encourage the madrasa system as a substitute for normal education for Muslim community?

» Does the government only wish to have a ‘presence’ in the madrasa to keep an eye on the content of education and instruction being imparted to the students?

If the answer to the above points is YES, then the government should be asked to put a stop to its policy of intervention in the madrasa system.
Well-known madrasas including the three at Deoband, Lucknow and Saharanpur which are recognized by the community, have refused to accept government aid since 1947, though they had played a major role in mobilizing Muslims for anti-British freedom struggle.

But the Muslim community should itself apply its mind to grade and standardize the madrasa as maktabs, madrasas and Jamias, to change the curriculum and syllabus in response to contemporary demands and to introduce a system for linking, through recognition and affiliation, the small madrasas to the major madrasas of various sects in the country. The community must endeavor seriously to relate the madrasa system to the two-fold objective of providing basic religious instruction to all Muslim children as well as of preparing the scholars and the religious functionaries the community needs tomorrow.

The core of the madrasa education must remain religious and, therefore, by definition ‘modernization’ or ‘secularization’ has its measurable limits. Only some elementary courses in languages like Hindi, English, (or the regional language), arithmetic, geography, history and social studies need to be added as the major madrasas have been doing by themselves over the last century. The major madrasas have also been restructuring their programme of studies in a manner so that if a student wishes to leave the madrasa in mid-stream and take the middle or high school examination or enter the universities for undergraduate or postgraduate education, he may do so. Some madrasas have introduced vocational courses so that their products do not depend solely on serving as teachers or Imamas.

For the general educational advancement of the Muslim Indians, the community must aim at cent percent literacy and therefore, on cent percent enrollment, lower drop out rate, quantitatively and qualitatively higher output at the secondary and higher secondary level and higher level of entry to degree courses. This calls for a division of work:

The community should provide basic Islamic instruction to all boys and girls in maktabs as in Kerala and rationalize the madrasa system for quality education and for producing the Islamic scholars it needs; This it can do on its own.

The government should, on the other hand:

» Establish primary, middle and secondary government schools in villages, Blocks, Mahallas of Muslim concentration in accordance with national norms.

» Modify its policy on medium of instruction (in Urdu-speaking states) and on languages, the contents of the textbooks and the school culture, so that an orthodox Muslim does not apprehend any distortion of or threat to his ward’s religious identity in government schools.

» And allow continued freedom to the community to establish and run its madrasas.
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