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The Pioneer’s invention regarding North-East madrasahs

FRAUD AND FICTION

By Our Special Correspondent

A report published in The Pioneer about mushrooming madrasahs in the North-East and the plot to create a “Muslim state” there aroused our interest and we searched for someone reliable to go to the field, talk to the relevant people in the police, intelligence, madrasahs and the Muslim community. We ultimately found a reliable journalist based in Imphal. Here is his report (ed):

A report published in The Pioneer about mushrooming madrasahs in the North-East and the plot to create a “Muslim state” there aroused our interest and we searched for someone reliable to go to the field, talk to the relevant people in the police, intelligence, madrasahs and the Muslim community. We ultimately found a reliable journalist based in Imphal. Here is his report (ed):

For a world already bent upon maligning everything related to Islam and Muslims, Sept. 11 came as a windfall. And what better way to put Muslims on perpetual defensive than to attack their religious institutions -- madrasahs and mosques. Attempts are being made to "establish" a direct symbiotic link between madrasahs and various Muslim outfits in the country. Painting every bearded man as a xeroxed copy of Taliban, Muslims are sought to be put in the dock, threatened and abused, asked to prove their "patriotism" by shunning their religious institutions and values. The knicker-clad super-nationalists and their sympathisers everywhere are peddling the agenda of "Indianising" Muslims by making them earn the "goodwill" of Hindutvavadis, who also take the extra trouble of issuing patriotic certificate to "Hindu Muhammadans." A section of the media has fallen prey to the manoeuvers of saffron campaign managers and are busy constructing myths about Muslims.

An April 14, 2002 fraudulent report, "Funds and Fundamentalism" in the Delhi newspaper The Pioneer about the allegedly growing numbers of militant Muslim organisations and their direct link to the "mushrooming" growth of madrasahs in India's North-East is an example of how media invents, diffuses and sustains the negative stereotype of madrasahs as the breeding ground for terrorism. A masked gunman (intended to portray a Muslim terrorist) and a map outlining the sinister Muslim presence reinforce the canard. Massive display and an ingenious box "Terror Trail," completes the design of the page intended to create a negative image of N-E Muslims.

THE UNTRUTH AND THE TRUTH

FICTION

FACT

The Pioneer says, last July AMMMA got a "donation" of 
$45,000.
The fact is that no such organisation ever existed in Manipur.
The Pioneer says Muslim militancy is growing in the North-East. The fact is that there is no significant Muslim militancy in the area, the largest outfit being Ulfa (Hindu) and NSCN-IM (Christian).
The Pioneer says Muslim separatism is growing in the area. The fact is Christian, tribal and Hindu separatism are more apparent.
The Pioneer says Muslim anti-national activities have rang alarm bells in Manipur police establishment. The fact is no alarm bells rang because nothing is there among Manipur Muslims to warrant it.
The Pioneer says there is an SIO office in Imphal’s Paona Bazaar. There is no SIO presence in entire Manipur, let alone Paona Bazaar. In any case, SIO is not a militant outfit.

In the very first paragraph the fraudulent nature of the report betrays itself when it says about a "donation" by one Muhammad Bhuran to a non-existent, "All Manipur Madrasah and Maulvi Association" (AMMMA). The donation is said to have come from Dubai. Neither does this association exist in the state nor did the alleged "donation" set any alarm bell ringing in Manipur police headquarters. A top officer in the police headquarters of Imphal, who preferred to be anonymous, told this correspondent, "We have no knowledge about the said donation, and there were no alarm bells ringing here concerning it. There was no such case." Another top officer, MK Das, Inspector General of Police (Intelligence), said that he did not have any idea about the alleged donation. Indeed, he was surprised to see The Pioneer report.


Seat of learning: Darul Uloom Manipur, a reputed institution that feeds, 
clothes, shelters and teaches poor Muslim children.

The putative association (AMMMA), to which the fictitious donation was made, does not exist in the state. Maulana Syed Ahmed Qasmi, president, Jamiatul Ulema Manipur, told MG, "If such an association of maulvis and madrasahs was there, we would have known it. It does not exist here." Mufti Siraj Ahmed, President, Rabeta Madaris-e-Arabiya, Manipur (affiliated to Darul Uloom Deoband) echoes the same observation, adding that neither the curiosity called AMMMA existed in the past, nor does it exist at present anywhere in the state.

Maulana Nooruddin Mudaris of Madrasah Alia Manipur, the state's oldest madrasah founded in 1944, and Maulana Nizamuddin Nadwi, deputy director of Madrasah Darul Uloom, the state's largest madrasah, also deny the existence of the said association.

Mufti Salatur-Rahman, director, Institute of Islamic Studies, Wangoi, told MG that the said association was only a figment of The Pioneer reporter's feverish imagination since such an association had never existed in Manipur. The question is: How could anyone make a "donation" to a non-existent association?


In the dock: Mufti Salatur Rahman of Institute of Islamic Studies 
and Maulana Nooruddin of Madrasa Alia. Do they look like terrorists?

The Pioneer fiction does not end here. It says "probes" by Intelligence Bureau sleuths found that Bhuran was funding Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) at Imphal’s Paona Bazaar. This too is a concoction. There is no SIO presence in the entire state of Manipur, no office of the organisation in the long stretch of Imphal’s completely Hindu-dominated Paona Bazaar. Sources in the Manipur police headquarters also inform MG that as per their record the SIO does not exist in Manipur at present.

The way the cock-and-bull story seeks to establish links between the "presence" of SIO and the fictitious "donation" made to it and to AMMMA, and "growing" number of Muslim "fundamentalist" organisations shows the real intention behind the report. Its motive is to simply show, to quote M.K. Das, IGP (Intelligence), that "Muslims are unwanted fellows here, and they should be kicked out." The IGP himself, alongwith the state DGP went to madrasahs in April and interacted with the madrasah people. They found nothing wrong. Only that madrasahs lacked funds, were barely able to manage to educate children of poor parents, who could not afford to go to schools. These children had been getting free education, board and lodging in these institutions of learning.

The Pioneer report, which runs like an Organiser piece, talks of an "increasing" number of madrasahs in the North-East. As against The Pioneer’s exaggerated claim of 2,002 madrasahs in Assam, only 275 madrasahs are there. 

An association of madrasahs, Tanzim-ul-Madaris, was formed in 1983 at Hojai to streamline the syllabi of these institutions. Every 2-3years syllabi are revised. In its latest revision (2001) Hindi, English, Maths, and History subjects were introduced. In Manipur, English was introduced in 1980 itself when the Darul Uloom madrasahs was founded. Maths, Manipuri and Hindi have also been included in the syllabi. They are planning to introduce science in their syllabus. One of the reasons for not being able to include these subjects, according to Maulana Nooruddin of Madrasah Alia, is lack of funds.

There are only 12 madrasahs in entire Manipur, and all of them are so short of funds that they are not able to complete building construction. Unlike Hindu and Christian religious places, which come up in no time, Muslim religious institutional buildings take decades to come to a semblance of completion. "I have been seeing this mosque at the heart of Imphal (just behind the police headquarters) for years. It is yet to complete the construction. If they had funds, they would have completed it," says MK Das. 

When Manipur has only 12 madrasahs in all, and even Assam, with its vast Muslim population has only 275 madrasahs, tiny Tripura can’t have 229. Possibly, these people are counting every Muslim religious building as a madrasah because of ignorance or out of mischief.

On the alleged link between madrasahs and militant Muslim outfits, Maulana Muhammad Hilal Qasmi, Principal, Guwahati Hafazi and Qarriquori (technical) Madrasah says, "If you are alleging something you need to provide evidence to substantiate your claim". He goes on to say that "not a single militant has been arrested so far from madrasahs anywhere in Assam." The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) , a dreaded militant outfit, is a Hindu organisation. "Should we then conclude that Hindu temples and ashrams are breeding militancy?" he questions. He says there is no place for extremism in Islam. Madrasahs seek to inculcate Islamic values, making good individuals who would contribute their parts in creating a world devoid of injustice. Certainly, this is not what the RSS-run shishu mandirs and Bal vidya kendras have been doing.

In Manipur security officers give a clean chit to the madrasahs. "As per official records, there is no link between ISI and madrasah, and other Muslim organisations," says a top officer in the police headquarters in Imphal. "No such link has been established," agrees state’s IGP (Intelligence). The IGP says that they monitor the activities of madrasahs, and find that "they are only imparting religious education under full protection of the Constitution. They pose no threat from security point of view." 

ISI has not been able to make any access to these institutions. "But certainly Meitei militant outfits have their bases in Bangladesh," adds the official in the police headquarters.

If one has to seek the causes of militancy in religion, then churches and temples also produce their share of militancy. NSCN (I-M), the strongest outfit in the North-East, consisting of many tribal militant groups, is all-Christian. ULFA in Assam and many Meitei militant groups in Manipur are Hindus. But no one raises a finger against their "religious" places or affiliation. The saffron brigade occasionally accuses the church of fostering separatism in the North-East, but it feigns blindness to many Meitei/Hindu separatist movements in Manipur and Assam. "Money coming to VHP-RSS from all over the world for anti-Muslim, divisive programmes is not of any concern to The Pioneer," says a Muslim leader.

The root of militancy lies in the socio-economic reality, and perceived sense of injustice. Therefore, militancy may grow among Hindus, Muslims, Christians, tribals etc. In Kashmir it is the "Muslim" militancy, but in Assam and Manipur it is "Hindu" militancy. In Nagaland it is "Christian" militancy. All over India there is Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal militancy. Militancy cuts across religious lines.

NSCN (I-M) is the "mother" of all militant outfits in the North-East. When asked whether the People’s United Liberation Front (PULF), a Muslim outfit, is supported by NSCN(I-M), the IGP says, "NSCN (I-M) is behind almost every militant outfit in the region." PULF was formed in the early 90s as a reaction to the killing of more than 100 Muslims on a false rumour fanned by some Meiteis. It could not sustain its activities for long because Muslims themselves were against its activities. 

"The activity of PULF is at very low level presently," confirms the IGP. It is not even banned under POTA, unlike other outfits. The IGP laughs when asked whether it is true that the goal of PULF is to form an Islamic state in North-East. He dismisses it as "ridiculous." Muslims form 6.9 percent of the population of Manipur, and 80 percent of them live in rural areas, where they are engaged in agriculture. They are mostly illiterate. A staggering 40.04 percent of Manipur’s population lives below poverty line, a sizeable chunk being Muslims. Their economic condition and the status they occupy in the power structure of Manipur would never allow the PULF to "fight for an Islamic state," as The Pioneer tells us.
The portrayal that the entire North-East is jammed with migrants from Bangladesh, and it is this section in particular which is being targeted for subversive activities against the Indian state, does not carry conviction. The Muslim percentage in the population of Manipur has actually declined from 7.5 percent in 1991 to 6.9 percent in 2001. The Muslim population of Assam, on the other hand, can’t be accurately known because of the fact that census has not been done in Assam for quite some time. But there are reports that many Bangladeshi Hindus have also moved into Assam and Tripura, to the extent that the original inhabitants of Tripura are now being reduced to a minority. Nepali Hindus too have infiltrated into Meghalaya . But these points elude the "watchful" eyes of our media. The increase in the Arunachal Pradesh Muslim population may be due to internal migration, from other parts of India, not from any foreign country. But since the trend is to find fault with everything "Muslim" and to demonise them without any proof, a "Muslim" is always seen as a "foreigner," and therefore a potential "terrorist." A Muslim does not have, in fact, to be a foreigner to be dubbed as one by the saffronised media.

It’s unfortunate that the "secular" media stoops so low as to see a "link" between madrasas and militancy. As for The Pioneer report, "it is simply a scrap of paper, does not have anything to do with reality," to quote a police officer in Imphal.

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