Analysis

Right to Education & Muslims

While welcoming the government’s decision to make education a fundamental right of children in the age group of six to fourteen, one wonders as to how far will it really help Indian Muslims. Undeniably, there still prevails the impression that the community at large is illiterate and backward. Little importance, however, is given to the hard reality responsible for this.

A rudimentary survey indicates that illiteracy prevails in areas devoid of basic educational facilities. Without a school, all the people – living in the area, whether Muslims or non-Muslims – will naturally be illiterate. Despite there being sufficient educational facilities, if Muslims are found to be illiterate and/or against using the same, then there may be some substance in holding them responsible for being illiterate. This point has been made primarily to emphasize that guaranteeing the right to education is only a minor move in the direction towards increasing the literacy rate in India.

There lies a long, long march ahead in context of the pathetic educational facilities available particularly in rural India. In this context, some credit must be given to the Muslim clerics and organizations who have established madarsas and similar institutions where children of the area receive at least some basic education. They have not waited for any constitutional directive and/or aid from the government to establish such institutions. In fact, over the past few decades, there has been a major increase in the number of educational institutions established in Muslim dominated areas with support of prominent Muslim groups. The message is simple. Where there is a will, there is a way, without being dependent on the government.

A paper scheme: Against this backdrop, what has the government really gained by making Right to Education a fundamental right? Seriously speaking, its importance remains confined to paper, till there is evidence of actual steps having really been taken in this direction. Besides, from a practical angle, even if elementary education was not made a fundamental right, described as a “momentous step,” it remained the duty of the government to ensure “quality education” for all citizens. Nevertheless, by making noise about the government having finally succeed in enacting the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) it can at this stage, only be said to be indulging in self-appreciation. And this practice of praising of one’s own actions has really nothing very commendable about it.

It would perhaps help our respected leaders if they ventured out a little down the narrow, dingy lanes of towns, cities and villages. Ordinary citizens, including the impoverished ones, have ceased to depend only on the government schools for ensuring “quality education” to their children. This is marked by the numerous “tuition classes” run in these areas. These are the classes, run by ordinary citizens, who may not be even graduates, but have at least passed school and/or are educated enough to help young children improve their grasp of learning and get better marks. Such classes are available in most areas, including the Muslim-dominated ones.

People to the fore: It is indeed amazing but true that the common Indian citizen has not allowed himself to wait till the coming into force of the Right to Education. Instead, before the government came to grips with the steps that need to be taken to improve the literacy rate of the country, the ordinary Indians had already begun moving ahead in this direction by leaps and bounds. In fact, it would not be surprising that while the respected leaders deliberate over the measures needed to ensure implementation of this right, citizens would have already marched ahead. What else is suggested by the rise in number of cyber-cafes all over the country together with their slow, but definite entry into rural areas as well? It may be mentioned that a significant number of madarsas have introduced the computers to their students.

In other words, the people have been moving and progressing in keeping with the need of the day, unmindful of what the governments do. This is true of people of all religions. Women working as house-maids, attendants or men working as fruit-sellers, laborers or engaged in other jobs may be totally illiterate. They may not even be aware of how to sign and/or spell their names. But despite facing a hard, economic burden, they are making all efforts possible to ensure that their children attend school. Yes, the majority of these people are not even aware of the major step taken by the government towards guaranteeing children right to education. It matters little for them for they have already embarked in this direction. By ensuring basic education to their children, they have also guaranteed that generation following them will not be labeled as illiterate. Indian Muslims are moving in this direction with the same enthusiasm as the rest of their fellow beings. Herein lies the major difference in actually moving towards achieving education and in only talking about what will be achieved by such and such measure/act.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2010 on page no. 14

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