The Madrasa as an institution has always been an eye-sore for the Sangh Parivar. They see it as the defence line for Muslim identity and an obstacle to eventual assimilation of Muslims in the Hindu fold. Under the NDA government the madrasas particularly in border areas were looked upon as cradle for terrorists and shelter for militants. As a result, many madrasas including Nadwat-ul-Ulama were subjected to search. Following 9/11 the US authorities added a new word to their lexicon-‘Deobandi’ because they were told that the Taliban had been trained in ‘Deobandi Madrasas’ in Pakistan. These madrasas had been established by the old boys of the Darul Uloom and had no connection whatsoever with Deoband. But, all embassies and intelligence agencies put the Darul Uloom and other Madrasas on their radar. Though, Home Minister Advani admitted that no madrasa manager or teacher anywhere in the country had been prosecuted for any subversive activity, the local police continued to harass them. Harassment has stopped but suspicion lingered about their purpose and their funding. At one stage, government tried to place its own teachers in the madrasas in the name of ‘modernization’. Very few madrasa responded to the bait. This may well be the conceptual origin of the proposed Central Madrasa Board.
The National Policy on Education, 1986, updated in 1992, had two centrally sponsored schemes. They were the Area Intensive Programme for Educationally Backward Minorities and Financial Assistance for Modernization of Madrasah Education. These schemes were launched during 1993-94. Under the 10th Plan these two schemes were merged to form the Area Intensive and Madrasa Modernisation Programme. These schemes are now sought to be replaced by a Central Madrasa Board which seeks to coordinate, regulate and control all madrasa education in the country.
The Central government has never reviewed the impact of its Madrasa Modernization Programme, whose basic aim was to provide teachers to Madaris for subjects like English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies.
The Central Madrasa Board Bill, drafted during the first UPA Government (2004-09), was ready for introduction but it was not introduced for whatever the official reason. Nearly all well known Jamias, Darul Ulooms and Madrasas in the country, including the Jamia Nadwat-ul-Ulama, Lucknow and Darul Uloom, Deoband, were totally opposed to the very concept of a Central Board funding Madrasa education, laying down a uniform curriculum and syllabus(even for non-theological subjects), and conducting common examinations. Not introducing the bill was a tactical move because of the fear of a negative impact on Muslim support for the UPA in the 2009 General Election.
Now, that the second UPA government has completed 100 days in office, the Bill brought out of the closet, has been circulated to the Muslim MPs for their views. The Bill is not yet quite in the public domain because the heads of nationally eminent Muslim organizations like the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind ( JUH), the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), the MJAH, and the All India Shia Conference (AISC) have not been taken into confidence. Nor have the views of Muslim educationists and opinion-makers been sought. The idea is first to placate the Muslim MPs, because they alone can raise a rumpus in Parliament.
The community, as a whole, is not convinced about the need or urgency of the move. The first question they raise is to why the government is so anxious to bring all madrasas under a centralized administration. Even to the best of our knowledge, no such central board exists for the Sanskrit Paathshalas whose number far exceeds that of the madrasas. If the idea is to upgrade the standard of education in religious institutions and to make their products more employable than they have conventionally been, the same consideration applies to Paathshalas. The State Madrasa Boards have not distinguished themselves by producing any religious scholars of national repute since their inception or at least since independence. They have been working as attached and subordinate offices of government steeped in corruption, graft and nepotism like the paathshala. In some states, for example, in Bihar, official intervention in Madrasas was politically motivated so that the Government of the day or the party in power may secure the free services of a set of drum beaters in every basti or mohalla! But the standard of these Sarkari madrasas and the employment prospects of their output were so low that they did not acquire any credence or credibility in the community. Largely, it was the Azad (unaffiliated) madaris which refused aid, retained their autonomy, who produced the Ulema and religious functionaries.
But the Muslim community did realize that religious scholars who perform conventional functions should also have minimum knowledge about the country and the world at large and have some idea of the direction in which the world and the country are moving. Therefore, apart from receiving classical instruction in theology, they should acquire basic knowledge of non-theological subjects and current affairs.
This idea has been recognized by nearly all the leading madrasas and has flowered over the last 2 or 3 decades and many darul ulooms have taken pains to revise and prune their classical syllabus in order to teach non-theological subjects, essential in the modern context and pursue ‘contemporary education’. However, they have drawn a line between the two branches of knowledge and always focused on the essential purpose of the madrasas, which is not to produce administrators or engineers or doctor but religious scholars, and devoted only 25% of the academic time to contemporary subjects. At the other extreme, in West Bengal the affiliated madrasas have all been converted into high and secondary schools under the state madrasa board and allotted less than 10% of the academic time to what it calls ‘Introduction of Islam’, which covers all branches of theology-Tafsir, Hadith, Seerat and Fiqh. One can easily realise that this deformed and distorted education cannot produce any Islamic scholars worth the name, West Bengal has thus killed Madrasa Education.
Unaffiliated Madrasas in UP and Kerala, for different reasons, have followed a common strategy to achieve the objective. Primary instruction is prohibited in Urdu, in UP, which is the mother tongue of nearly 100 % of Muslim students. Muslim students are normally enrolled in local madrasas where they study up to the primary level. Then most of them take primary examination as private candidates and enter normal schools.
In Kerala, school enrolment is nearly universal and all Muslim boys and girls have double enrolment. During the first five years they spend morning hours in the local madrasas and the rest of the day in schools. At the end of 5 years, those who aspire to become Aalim, stay with the madrasa system while a large majority moves on to the general school. These examples show that neither the Muslim community nor the managers of the madrasas are blind to the changing circumstances and the aspirations of the young muslims they are trying as best as they can to give theological instruction to every child at the impressionable age of 5-10, to lay the foundation of his or her Islamic identity.
During the last two decades, there has been a very fortunate development. The senior products of the madrasas, comparable to graduates are accepted by several well known universities like the AMU, the JMI, the JNU and the Jamia Hamdard for the master course in several subjects, or a course in Tibb. Some universities require them to take a one year bridge-course in order to familiarize themselves with the new subjects of study as well as improve English which is often the medium of education. Such products have found their way into government service, including the central civil services, mass communication system, government media and as translators in the foreign service. This development has opened a new horizon for the madrasa products without affecting the autonomy of the institution or diluting its basic purpose.
Why emphasis on Madrasas?
Another important question that arises in the Muslim mind relates to the fact that only 4% of the Muslim students at the secondary level are enrolled in madrasas while 96% study in schools and colleges and receive certificates and degrees. What the community fails to comprehend is the selective approach. Most of the Muslim youth armed with university degrees are unemployed or they take jobs far below their entitlement. Why is it that the government is so anxious about improving the prospects of the madrasa products, while totally ignoring the wide spread unemployment among educated Muslim youth?
Why no Schools in Muslim Areas?
The Government launched Sarava Shiksha Abhiyan and is now implementing the Right to Education Act. But even at the lowest level, the benefits of universalisation are yet to reach the community in their villages and mohallas.
Why does the government not care to establish adequate number of schools according to national norms. If they exist they are generally treated like step-children. Muslim parents are eager to send their children to schools of minimum quality in the neighbourhood, even braving other linguistic and social obstacles. A legitimate question is addressed to the government as to why it does not provide minimum educational facility and at least primary education of minimum acceptable quality to Muslim children. The most cases Muslims have no option but to attend maktabs in local masjids.
Outline of the Bill
Let us now have a glance through the Bill. Though the Long Title only mentions coordination and standardization of non-theological education, the Act goes far beyond clearly shows under the Bill that the Board will be established by the Government will not enjoy academic or administrative autonomy. There is no compulsion, no doubt, and the Board shall affiliate why the madrasas which volunteer for the ‘honour’ to receive the ‘benefits’. But once affiliated, the Board can disaffiliate them or take disciplinary measures for not following its instructions. However, affiliation entitles the madrasas to receive grant-in-aid from the Central or the state governments.
Among the list of subjects to be taught, theology does not have any priority. Instead of fiq‘h, philosophy is mentioned.
The senior products are not guaranteed admission to colleges or universities or government institutions, far less employment.
The Act does not lay down any qualification for the selection of the Chairperson of the Board or the method of selection or appointment (Section 4). Theoretically, it can be a non-Muslim. In any case, he shall be a person who enjoys the confidence of the government in power. Read with the provision for the appointment of Registrar (Section 14) who is to be nominated by the government in consultation with the Chairperson, it is clear that the decisions of the Board shall be taken, whatever the procedure laid down, by the Chairperson and the Registrar both of whom shall toe the line of the government.
The Board shall have 11 additional members (Section 4 (1)), all of them nominated. 7 of them shall be ‘renowned’ Muslim religious scholars belonging to various sects and denominations. The draft mentions a ‘Deobandi’ and a ‘Barelvi’ while there are no such sects as they are both Hanafis. It shall have Ahl-e-Hadith, Shafeis as well as two Shia scholars, one belonging to the Bohra community. Thus the Bill lacks a sense of proportion and seeks to divide the community. In addition, the Board shall include three Muslim educationists including a woman as well as a Muslim philanthropist (why?). No member will have any representative status, as the head of a Muslim organization, Jamaat or institution. The members will serve at the sweet will of the government and may be removed by the government before completing their term of three years.
The Board shall have several Committees. The most important is the Curriculum Committee with 5 including the Chairperson of the Board as its head and the Registrar as Secretary (Section 35).
The government shall nominate or appoint all other officers or employee. The Rules and Regulations of the Board shall be formulated by the Government.
The Board shall hold an Annual Meeting; prepare an Annual Report as well as an Annual Statement of Accounts, duly audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, to be submitted for presentation to the Parliament.
Section 18 (1) lays down the general duty of the Board as the standardization of the non-theological aspects of Madrasa system for its ‘comprehensive, systematic and integrated development’. But this is no more than a mask. Nowhere does the Act lay down the proportion of academic time and energy to be devoted to non-theological instruction. It is presumed that standardization by the Board will universally apply to all affiliated madrasas of the country. One wonders if it is possible and practicable.
The Act goes further to empower the board to ‘emphasise the liberal, universalist and contextually pro-active genius of Islam’. It does not even clarify whether the general education in the Madrasas shall be compatible with basic Islamic doctrines.
Sub-section 18(1) (w) speaks of ‘programmes for the consolidation of the inclusive society marked by religious and cultural diversity through proper interfaith understanding’. This is as political an objective as could be and can possibly clash with the basic tenets of madrasa education.
Finally, it provides under sub-clause (ee) for ‘adoption of a non-polemelical approach to other religions and non-sectarian institutions in a state of fidelity to the Islamic spiritual tradition’. One does not understood what this means. But, it is obvious that any instruction for da`wa shall come under a ban.
The Board shall recommend not only textbooks in non-theological subjects but also the prescribed reading material.
Chapter V relating to finance, accounts and audit does not lay down that the affiliated madrasa shall be wholly funded by the government or the Board; it speaks of donations, gifts, etc., which are normally available to the madrasas. The funds of the Board shall be allocated as grants to affiliated madrasas for their maintenance and development and for such other purpose as may be prescribed including remuneration and honorarium. Again, nowhere does the Bill say that the remuneration and honorarium to the teaching and non teaching staff of the affiliated madrasas shall match those admissible to those of government schools and colleges.
The Budget of the Madrasa shall be subject to approval by the Board. The financial procedure as well as the audit procedure is the same as generally applicable to government institutions but it will be beyond the capacity of an average madrasa to fulfil the formalities. In addition, the madrasas shall submit periodical reports and returns to the Board, for compilation and submission to the central government.
It is said that the country has more than 100,000 madrasas but the figures may be misleading. The government has not done its home work to quantify the number of Maktabs and what the Bill calls primary, upper primary, secondary and higher secondary madrasas.
“...In contrast, Muslim women with a literacy level of 50% have been able to keep up with women of other communities and are much ahead of the SC/ST women in rural India.” SACHAR REPORT
If the past experience of the number of institutions which volunteered to receive government grant under ‘Modernisations Programmes’ is a guide, the total number of madrasas affiliated to the Board may not exceed a few thousands. But this also raises a question on the double affiliation of the Madrasas which are already affiliated to some state boards. The Bill is also silent about the organic relationship between the Central and State Madrasa Boards.
The Modernisation Programme having failed, the Government now wishes to take over the entire madrasa system. No doubt, the teachers who are ill-paid may be better paid. But for hundreds of years the community has supported the madrasa system and will not easily succumb to the lure of money or official status. The community knows that affiliation to a Government Board is an embrace of death which will not merely distort and devalue the system. Ultimately it will kill it. The Community realizes that the AMU and the JMI have lost their status as minority institutions. It also knows that despite Article 30, it is not easy to set up minority schools and colleges because of deliberate obstructions, which even the NCMEI has not been able to tackle with any success. Essentially, the madrasas are minority institutions. Nearly, all of them are also wakfs in law. The Bill totally ignores both these crucial aspects. Even the Right to Education Act does not recognize the functioning madrasas as equivalent to schools for the purpose of universalisation of education.
Virtual takeover of the madrasas by the government will amount to gross interference in the religious affairs of the community and a violation of the Constitution.
The madrasas are all modernizing themselves and introducing non-theological subjects, at their own pace and in response to the felt needs of the community. They cannot be rushed into divesting themselves of their autonomy and their real purpose for the production of Ulema and religious functionaries.
Muslim organizations as well as leading Ulema and eminent Madrasas have already taken a position against the official move. There may be an odd voice here and there, enticed by monetary prospects, but just as the move to take over and regulate madrasas in Pakistan, at the instance of the USA after 9/11, under President Musharraf failed, so will this move. Insha Allah!
Muslim India requests the government not to interfere in the madrasa system but as well-wishers simply create a Madrasa Development Fund which may be drawn upon by some madrasas at their option for their development. And no more.
By Syed Shahabuddin