Madrasas: A two-school theory

published on October 29, 2009

Balbir K. Punj

The Muslim community in India has rejected the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s proposal to have a centralised madrasa board to oversee the education of Muslims through these religious schools.

The government is keen to give official recognition to madrasa education and accept madrasa certificates as equivalent to the secondary board certificates. It is now waiting for a suitable law draft from the community. By giving a veneer of science and general knowledge to the religious education that is imparted to poor Muslim students in these so-called schools, is it possible to get the community to progress?

In the last few years, thousands of madrasas have sprung up throughout the country, especially in areas bordering Nepal and Bangladesh. Most of these are allegedly funded by the orthodox Wahabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In Wahabi teaching, all other religions are downgraded, and what is taught as history are not necessarily facts.
Why should sections of poor Muslims go only to these archaic madrasas for education when there are several government and private educational institutions for schooling and most of them are free. However, it is true that two meals a day serve as an attraction for these impoverished Muslim boys. Though the story is the same among other religious groups, they send their wards to secular schools recognised by the government.

The argument that Muslims want to go only to a Muslim school as the emphasis there is strictly on religious education and secondary school subjects (not the nationally or state-adopted curricula) are just an add on is illogical. If the government thoughtlessly concedes this, as it is all set to do, soon education in India will be torn into isolated ghettos organised along communal lines, and only for communal education, with secular vanilla on top.

If young Muslim men and women do not get jobs, they blame “others”. They don’t realise that they were not sent to schools where the “others” were educated.
We may concede that there are more poor people among Muslims in India than among other communities. But is that a justification to tear the education system into two recognised streams?

The reason why a central madarasa board is being resisted is simply because they do not want the government to find out what is being taught in these madarasas. Is the government turning a blind eye to the repercussions of such thinking?

This communal division in education will amount to destroying the idea of a united India. It amounts to giving one particular community the privilege to teach anything it likes with just a thin layer of science and general education added on. Should this kind of education be considered equivalent to 10 to 12 years of secular education? Also it is expected to fetch this community government jobs. This narrowed down “education”, in fact, is restricted to proficiency in Arabic and the religious texts in that language.
True, there are also schools of other denominations. But do they make religious education, and a curricula based on it, the heart of their teaching? No. They do impart religious instruction to the children of their community, but it is just two or three classes in a week and 90 per cent of the time they teach science, mathematics, general knowledge, history, geography etc with the same or similar texts written along internationally-accepted rules.

If political parties fail to read the writing on the wall just because they want to play votebank politics, civil society should not ignore this planting of a time bomb in our national educational field.

The government cannot convince anyone that Muslims have a right to education of their choice, ignoring the general education available to all others. Such a claim is another form of the two-nation theory that brought vivisection to India: it has promoted ghettoism, separatist thinking and led to jihadi groups finding shelter and inspiration among them. It congeals what the orthodox leadership of the Muslim community wants.

Just to play votebank politics, the Congress is going ahead with tearing the coming generation into two separate camps of Muslims and non-Muslims, and that too on a permanent basis.

Is it blind to the fact that madarasa-educated people will have a perception totally different from that of others? Is it blind to the fact that those who are educated in madrasas will not be able to compete with the rest in matters of general and technical knowledge and skills? Has it ever considered that this approach would create a permanent “victim mentality” in one community as they lose out on technical skills?

In Pakistan, madarasas have been recognised as a breeding ground for terrorism. It has ripped their society apart and weakened civil government.

Right from the days of Pervez Musharraf’s presidency, attempts were made to get these communal cauldrons registered and brought under some control. Little success has been achieved, as noted in all US congressional reports about Pakistan.

In fact, the open confrontation that Mr Musharraf’s government had in Lahore over madarasas as breeding grounds for terror should be a reminder to civil society here too. Union human resources development minister Kapil Sibal must read the real meaning of the rejection of his proposal to set up a board to regulate these religious schools. If he refuses for political reasons, civil society must force him to read it and save India before his move does permanent and irrevocable damage to the fabric of our nation.

Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at [email protected]

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