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A historic institution falls on bad days

The history of Muslim education in India since the inception of British rule is closely associated with the history of Calcutta Madrasah popularly known as Madrasah-e-Aliah. It is the mainspring from which a particular system of madrasah education grew up in India. 

But the present condition of Calcutta Madrasah College (a later name for the same madrasah) is not good. "The institution has the capacity of about 300 students, but due to poor conditions the number of students is decreasing by the year," says Md. Moniruzzaman, officer-in-charge of Calcutta Madrasah College. The post of principal has been lying vacant for the past 20 years, and the government pays no attention to the needs of the institution. He adds that the courses of this institution are not recognised by the UGC, and thus students have to face problems regarding their future. So they are compelled to continue with degree courses like BA or BCom in UGC-affiliated colleges while studying at the madrasah.

The golden past of Calcutta Madrasah College dates back to the eighteenth century. During the colonial regime, institutions like the madrasah emerged as a historical necessity. The intention was expressed quite explicitly in 1780 when the Calcutta Madrasah College , was established to promote the study of Arabic and Persian languages and of Islamic law with a view to qualify the sons of Muslim gentlemen for responsible and lucrative offices, and to produce competent officers for the courts of justice. It was founded by Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of East India Company, and was named Calcutta Mohammedan College. The studies prescribed were natural philosophy, theology, law, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, logic, rhetoric, grammar and oratory. The first annual examination of the madrasah was held on August 15,1827 in presence of many respectable officials and gentlemen of Calcutta. The result was particularly satisfactory.

Hastings provided a rented building at the baithakkhana, Sealdah, for this "seminary of Mohammedan literature". In consequence of the unhealthiness and also of other inconveniences of the original site of the madrasah building , the government resolved in June 1823 to construct a new building in a more suitable locality known as Kalinga (now Haji Md. Mohsin Square ) and inhabited chiefly by Muslims. 

It started functioning in 1827 and till now it is housed in this building.For further development, a medical class was instituted in 1826 under Dr.Breton, the professor of medicine .This medical class in the Calcutta Madrasah College was the first of its kind in India and continued till the establishment of Calcutta Medical College in 1836.Attempts were made several times by the authorities to introduce English classes in the College in 1826, 1829 and 1833. Attendance in the English classes was made compulsory, but without success. Then the authorities tried to attract students with increased stipends for the English class. Even with this allurement , English continued to remain unpopular. 

The reason for the failure was that English was introduced as an additional subject, which was an additional burden on the students. In 1837, the government abolished Persian to make room for English as official language and established Anglo-Persian department under direct control of the principal of Calcutta Madrasah College. This school is existing till now.

In Bengal there exist two types of madrasahs , namely Reformed Scheme or High Madrasah and Old Scheme or Senior Madrasah. The year 1927 is remarkable in the history of Muslim education in Bengal as some important events took place in this year. The first Indian principal of the Calcutta Madrasah College, Shamsul Ulema Kamaluddin Ahmed, was appointed and the first madrasah education board called Board of Central Madrasah Examinations was constituted for the purpose of conducting the various examinations of the Old Scheme or Senior Madrasah namely Alim, Fazil, Kamil and Mumtazul Muhaddesin.

Thereafter came the fateful year of 1947 in which partition of India took place and everything was made topsy-turvy. All moveable properties of the Madrasah, with its unique library containing a large number of books and manuscripts were transferred to East Bengal at Dacca Madrasah. The Madrasah Board too was shifted. The administration of the Madrasah Board was suspended for two years, but the government of West Bengal was kind enough to set up the interim West Bengal Madrasah Examination Board and conducted the High Madrasah , Islamic Intermediate , Alim, Fazil and MM examinations in 1948 and 1949.

The arbitrary division of Bengal and the transfer of the madrasah could not destroy the cultural heritage of the Muslims of West Bengal . Very soon they realised the loss inflicted upon them. Due to the pressing demands of the leading Muslims of West Bengal and the help of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the Calcutta Madrasah-college was reopened in 1949 with new staff , new students, new furniture and new equipment and, above all, new spirit. West Bengal Madrasah Education Board was reconstituted and separated from Calcutta Madrasah College. As a consequence of this arbitrary decision by an executive order, Calcutta Madrasah College lost its status of an affiliating and degree awarding body , which it had been enjoying since its inception. 

With each passing day, the institution is losing its grandeur. Now it remains as an institution of least importance. Students come only from far away districts. They also go in for some degree course at some other institution as the course offered by this institution is not relevant to enable them earn a livelihood.

Alamgir, senior teacher of Anglo-Persian department of the college says, "the deteriorating condition of the Calcutta Madrasah is due to local anti-social elements’ patronage and the support of some political parties. There is encroachment of slums alongside the boundary of the institution, and the ground is chiefly occupied by outsiders for playing games and conducting tournaments. The government has turned a deaf ear to our pleas." 

Calcutta Madrasah College , a pioneer of Indian education and the torch bearer of oriental studies in the eastern part of India, has become a neglected institution as the UGC has not taken it under its wings. It is surprising that the teachers of TOI department of Sanskrit College, (established for the same purpose, i.e., to study the Hindu law and theology) are enjoying UGC scale, but the teachers of Calcutta Madrasah College are deprived of this benefit, in spite of the state government’s commitment to bear the entire expenses in this regard.

West Bengal Minority Commission chairman, Justice KM Yusuf has expressed deep concern over the present condition of Calcutta Madrasah College and said, "it requires immediate attention of the government."

The Kidwai Madrasah Education Committee report has been submitted to government in which recommendation has been made to upgrade the Calcutta Madrasah College to an autonomous institution of excellence. This 222-year-old educational institution of the country deserves proper attention of the state government.

¯ Md. Shahid Rafique in Kolkata

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