Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Madrasas and Failure of Muslim Leadership

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
04 January 2017
The recent recommendation of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) that children studying in madrasas and vedicpathshalas should be taught contemporary subjects such as mathematics, science and social science is a welcome step. After all India is a signatory to the rights of child convention and all policymakers should be sensitive about rights of children which includes the kind of education which they receive in schools and other educational institutions like madrasas and the vedicpathshalas. However, as with other measures about Muslim education which mentions madrasas, this policy recommendation is bound to be opposed by Muslim groups. Charges of secularism in danger and tampering in the ‘internal affairs’ of the community will be levelled against the HRD if this recommendation is accepted. And that’s a real pity.
Most surveys would tell us that madrasas outnumber vedicpathshalas by a huge margin. As such the real import of this recommendation is on the madrasas, specifically on those who are reluctant to teach their students even a modicum of subjects which might have contemporary relevance. It is by now common knowledge that there are vast number of madrasas who are not affiliated to any madrasa board and who consequently are completely unregulated. This autonomy is largely misused in the sense that they are above board in terms of what they teach and how they teach it. Mostly these madrasas, which are called azad madrasas, teach deeniyat which is basically an amalgam of centuries old texts. Even with this religious education, there are no contemporary discussion which happen. Rather the whole point of this kind of education is to facilitate rote learning which only means that a child learns without any self-reflection or criticality.
There was an attempt made by the earlier government to bring all such madrasas under one umbrella by creating an All India Madrasa Board. It was a good idea to start with, but with various interests competing as Muslim interests, there was hardly any headway and eventually the suggestion went to the cold storage. The interesting part of this proposal was the it were Muslims themselves who had drafted this proposal. But then for many successive governments, some Muslims are more important than others. The opposition to this proposal from the Ulema saw to it that the bold proposal by reform minded Muslims was shelved.
Indian Muslims lag behind all other communities in terms of major development indices. One of the primary reason which has been identified for this deplorable state of affairs is educational deprivation of the community From access to schools to retention to accessing higher education, there is a huge shortfall of Muslims. The major problem lies at the level of schooling itself. And yet for many decades, Muslim religious and political leadership has hardly come to understand this as a problem. The lopsided practice of their politics has meant that only issues of religion become important for them. As if Indian Muslims live by praying alone; they have no other material issues confronting them in this world. It is perhaps pitiable that till date, there has been no mass movement amongst Muslims demanding better education and good quality schools in their localities.
The problem also remains that successive governments have accepted that the Ulema’s regressive understanding of Islam and Muslims is the representative voice within the community. But even if it, then what should be the state’s agenda: to give in to populism or to do what is right despite negative publicity. The Right to Education Act provided one such opportunity in the sense of creating a common understanding of what every child irrespective of religion, should be taught at schools. Once again, the Muslim leadership challenged it and squandered the potential inherent within the Act to raise the educational levels of Muslims. Today we have a piquant and possibly illegal situation, where the provisions of RTE do not apply to lakhs of Muslim children studying in various madrasas. Looks like all of us have accepted that they are less of citizens in this country and that’s why perhaps their rights can be trampled.
This recommendation of the NCPCR is another opportunity before the Muslim community. It should be debated seriously and in a non-political fashion keeping in mind the interests of Muslim children studying in madrasas. But one is already getting the feeling that this is perhaps too much to expect from the Muslim leadership. All indications are that this proposal will also end up with familiar cries of Islam in danger.
Arshad Alam is a columnist

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