Mumbai: For all the outrage against the Maharashtra government’s decision to de-recognise madarsas not teaching English, Maths, Science and the Social Sciences and classify them instead as `non-schools’, the move to modernise madarsas was actually initiated by the previous Congress-NCP government in the state. The difference, though, is one of perception – gentle persuasion, with one eye cynically focussed on a vote-bank, versus the appearance of coercion, equally driven by vote-bank politics of another kind.
The previous government had made available a grant of Rs 10 crore to 200 of the 1889 madarsas in Maharashtra to enable them to offer modern and vocational education apart from religious discourses to their students, believed to number 1.5 lakh. Children in the 9th and 10th standards were offered an annual scholarship of Rs 4000 and students in the 12th standard or those at industrial training institutes were given a scholarship of Rs 5000 annually. That was in 2013 and the government insisted the package was worked out on the basis of the Sachar Committee recommendations which had called for the mainstreaming of students at madarsas to better equip them to take their place alongside others in nation-building.
The move, however, was widely seen as an election-eve ploy to win support from the state’s Muslim voters.
The grants came with riders too – the madrasas would have to be registered with either the Charities Commissioner or the Wakf Board, and grants could be stopped if students at those particular madrasas failed to take their 10th standard board exams. Ironically, the government’s files never moved fast enough, as a result of which the money was not even disbursed.
At the time, the BJP and the Shiv Sena had screamed blue murder, questioning the Congress’s motives. Today the boot is on the other foot, with the Congress questioning the BJP’s motives and the minorities themselves worried about the ‘saffronisation’ agenda of the party currently in power in both Maharashtra and at the Centre.
Threat of ‘de-recognition’
Union Minorities minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is technically correct when he says the agenda was begun by the Congress but there is a difference between then and now. The Congress’s move appeared more nuanced – there was no coercion or compulsion, only persuasion via the lure of money. Today, the government threatens to de-recognise madarsas for failing to teach non-religious subjects and to treat children studying there as ‘out of school’, a double whammy as far as the minorities are concerned.
The fact is that there is no Madarsa Board in Maharashtra, unlike other states, so the question of recognition or de-recognition technically doesn’t arise. Secondly, many madarsas cater to Muslim children who attend regular school in addition to the purely religious learning they acquire from Islamic institutions. While children who attend only madarsas where subjects other than Islam are not taught are indeed technically ‘out of school’, the classification has little operational meaning since school attendance in India is not compulsory even though the statute guaranteeing education is called the ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act.
Announced during Ramzan and coming soon after the beef ban in the state that has rendered hundreds of traditional Quresh meat merchants and their employees jobless (not to speak of the potential for harassment from various authorities for stocking illegal beef), the minority community is largely viewing the threat of ‘de-recognition’ of madarsas as one more move by the BJP-led government in the state as part of the RSS agenda to turn Muslims into second class citizens in the country.
Says Mohammad Faroque Azam, president of Nijaat (National Institute of Jihad Against Atrocities and Terrorism), ‘This is extremely short-sighted and wrong. Students from madarsas have managed to secure degrees, become graduates, sometimes even doctors and engineers. This kind of a move will make most of these students vulnerable to all kinds of nefarious elements if they are unable to secure proper higher education and jobs.’’
Moreover, it is not quite true that madarsas do not take care of the higher aspirations of children of their community. As Naseem Siddiqui, the former chairman of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission points out, one madrasa student a few years ago had made news by making it to the Indian Adminstrative Service, though very few Muslims manage to successfully crack the UPSC exams. The Maharashtra government’s Mehmoodur Rehman committee had said as little as 4.4 per cent of the total Muslim population of the state got jobs in the state administration and police force. Perhaps with this in mind, one such institution in Mumbai, the Darul Uloom Faizan Raza madarsas, has already begin to offer free coaching classes for the IAS exams to enable more of its students to make it to the mainstream.
‘Madarsas not anti-mainstream’
It is thus wrong to say that madarsas are resisting mainstream education and restrict themselves only to religious education, says Siddiqui. “Minority institutions which offer only mainstream education are allowed to give priority to students from their own community, aren’t they,’’ he asks. “Then why this now?’’
That question is legitimate, for the Maharashtra Minorities minister Eknath Khadse is on record as stating that since madrasas will not admit students from Hindu and Christian communities if they wish to study at these schools, they should be treated only as religious institutes and the children studying there as ‘out of school’.
But as the attmept by the Darul Uloom school shows, there is a large section of aspirational youth which wishes to get into top jobs in the country and the statements of both Khadse and his minister of state Deepak Sawant declaring madrasas as non-schools has not gone down well with the community.
And while it is debatable if the Congress’s more persuasive ways actually worked with the minorities in 2014, as the BJP had then alleged – the Congress still lost the elections badly both at the Centre and in Maharashtra – this repackaged move by the BJP threatens to create massive unrest within the community that could well spill on the streets.