Muslims’ Literacy Rate

It is indeed ironical that more than half a century has passed since India gained independence and the country still appears to be fairly unclear on its stand on certain issues, including progress of minority communities, particularly Muslims. Time and again, politicians make electoral promises while experts, academicians, social activists and concerned organizations deliberate on what needs to be done. Yet, this cycle continues to be repeated and repeated again with increasing focus supported by some data on nothing practical having really been achieved for the progress of Indian Muslims.

Naturally, at this point, one is tempted to raise the question: don’t these routine exercises carry the impression of being nothing else but indulgence in rhetoric followed by some paperwork, preparation of reports followed by an agenda on what should be discussed at the next such show.

The tragedy is that most of these exercises remain confined to stage one only, which is accepting the hard reality that a lot still needs to be done to ensure the progress of Indian Muslims economically, socially as well as politically.

Hasn’t the time come to move a little beyond this stage? It has and conscientious citizens have started taking needed steps in this direction. Irrespective of whether they are aided by government or non-government organizations, even totally illiterate workers are making efforts to ensure basic education for their children. This is just an elementary pointer that semi-literacy and literacy rates among Muslims in a decade from now can be expected to be much higher than what it is now. And this silent revolution is taking place in urban as well as rural areas. In fact, this is not confined just to Muslims as non-Muslims are doing their best to ensure education of their children.

There are certain issues, particularly that of education, which cannot be bracketed with only religious identity of various communities. Yet, there still prevails the trend to do so. The religious identity of an illiterate, totally uneducated citizen, whether he is a Muslim or a non-Muslim, cannot be held responsible for his/her educational status. But the manner in which educational status of Muslims is discussed conveys the impression that their religious identity is held responsible for their illiteracy.

How can religious identity of any individual be linked with his/her educational status? If this was really the case then directions given by clerics on why should children not be sent to schools would have been focused upon. There is no report from any area of Muslims having purposely refrained from receiving education as their clerics asked them to do so. On the contrary, through numerous madrasas, Muslim clerics are playing a major role in ensuring basic education for even the most deprived and poverty-stricken members of the community. There are areas, where madrasas exist but government schools don’t. In these places, even non-Muslims send their children to madrasas so that they don’t remain totally illiterate. And this clearly highlights a strong fact, which continues to be largely ignored to this day. When means of education are within their reach, whether madrasas or schools, people living in the area, Muslims as well non-Muslims, tend to make full use of the same to receive at least some basic education. In places where these do not exist, why should people of the area be blamed for remaining illiterate?

It is time that this hard fact was viewed more specifically. Whatever be the literacy rate of Muslims, it should be compared with the literacy rate of non-Muslims in the same area. It should also be studied in the context of the educational infrastructure prevalent in that particular area. If there prevails a major difference between literacy rates of Muslims and non-Muslims in a particular area, where the needed educational facilities are available, then it would not be inappropriate to raise questions on why have  Muslims lagged behind.

Some importance should also be given to comparing literacy rates of Muslims and non-Muslims of an area with an adequate educational system with that of places where there are not sufficient schools as well as teachers.

There is nothing wrong in expressing concern about Muslims’ educational status. Yes, definitely many steps need to be taken to create wide-spread awareness about the importance of career-oriented education in various fields. But, it is time that old, biased as well as stereotyped attitude of indirectly holding Muslims’ religious identity as the primary cause of their educational backwardness was done away with. Sadly, even today, the attitude of the majority at the top in government, bureaucracy as well as non-government organizations remains rigid, narrow as well as a totally blocked one, where their deliberations on educational status of Muslims are concerned. While they have confined their attitude to primarily deliberating on this issue from this perspective, they have failed to move beyond being concerned about the literacy rate among Muslims.

Thankfully, the present generation has decided to move forward on their own strength to ensure that their children are recognized as literate Muslims.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2012 on page no. 11

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