By M.V. Kamath
Isn'tit time, sixty years after becoming Independent, for India to give up this business of minoritism and get on with life like one whole nation and one whole people? How long are we going to treat Muslims, especially, as a minority with special reservations in government jobs and special provisions for admission to education institutions?
The Allahabad High Court has termed as incorrect the provision granting minority institution status to the Aligarh Muslim University. The Court went to the extent of saying that Aligarh University is not a minority institution and the fifty per cent reservation being extended to doctors in the University'spost graduate courses is illegal and incorrect. That is a correct decision.
India is secular and in a secular country no distinction can or should be made between people of one religion and another. The principle of reservations was originally upheld on the grounds that Muslims are educationally backward and need support. That may have been true at one point in time but how long are we to stick to that proposition? As it is, a certain section of Muslims does not seem anxious or willing to join the mainstream. The children, especially of the poor are being consciously sent to madrasas which, according to some accounts, have in recent times become training grounds for terrorists. No exact figures are available of the number of madrasas in the country. Estimates vary.
According to a report in The Economic and Political Weekly, the Hamdard Education Society has tried to do a survey of madrasas but has not succeeded. That is indeed remarkable. One estimate is that there are around 60,000 madrasas in the country, but, apparently there are madrasas and madrasas. A small number, it is stated, are affiliated to madrasa boards or state boards of education. The exact figures is not indicated.
A certain section of Muslims does not seem anxious or willing to join the mainstream. The children, especially of the poor, are being consciously sent to madrasas which, according to some accounts, have in recent times become training grounds for terrorists.
But a second variety, according to reports, show an incredible variety according to their syllabi, faculties and above all, their sectarian affiliations. They jealously guard their independence and do not tolerate any outside interference. India is a free country and it is well nigh impossible for government to order what should be taught in a madrasa, so long as no anti-national teachings are ingrained in the minds of the children. As a matter of fact there is no reason why Muslims should not send their children to regular government?run schools.
The Draft Bill on Free and Compulsory Education, 2005 affirms the goal of ?providing all children opportunities of access to, participation in and completion of elementary education of equitable quality?. The Bill does not specify that equitable education should be provided to children of any one caste or religion. By definition the equitable education is open to all. Where, then, is the necessity of opening separate schools for Muslim children?
It is no argument to say that madrasas are meant to inculcate the true spirit of Islam in the minds of Muslim children. Islam, or, for that matter any religion is something that is best taught at home. By attending government run primary or secondary schools Hindu children don'tcease to be Hindus. One can understand a handful of schools strictly intended to train young Muslims to become mullahs and to conduct religious rites. That would be quite in order. We have Christian seminaries and even some Sanskrit pathashalas that are meant to keep society well supplied with priests. But to set up madrasas to teach children right from childhood how to be Muslims is to keep them deliberately out of mainstream.
According to those who have made detailed inquiries into madrasas, Fiqh (Islamic Law) holds a central place in their curricula. India is not governed under Islamic tenets. The Mughal Empire ended in 1857. If any law is to be studied, it is the law currently prevailing in the country.
According to the report in The Economic and Political Weekly, even a casual glance at the madrasa curricula would go to suggest that they have no relevance for modern times. The entire purpose of setting up madrasas is self-defeating. It is shocking to hear that some madrasas teach only Hifz, that is, memorisation of the Quran. How can children receiving such education make any meaningful progress in these modern times of Information Technology? Why blame the government if Muslims don'tmake it to the top or fail even to get jobs? The medium of instruction in madrasas is reportedly Arabic though in some Shia madrasas it is Persian.
A truly secular government?and the UPA pretends to be one?must make valiant efforts to convince Muslims, rich and poor, but especially poor, that if they do not keep up with the times, failure is written in their lives and they will have no one to blame but themselves.
Are Muslims?especially the very poor among them?living in a make-believe world? How does the study whether of Arabic or Persian help when the living languages in India are Hindi and English and more especially English?
Even more tragic, according to the EPW report, in many madrasas a rather parochial approach is adopted and children are not expected to read any outside material other than what is prescribed. If the EPW report is to believed, ?boys are punished or even run the risk of rustication if they are caught reading any outside material?. This is tragedy beyond compare. Reason, experimentation, experience and verification, all integral to modern knowledge apparently find no place in the madrasa educational system. Is it any surprise, then, that Muslim children, unable to withstand competition, seek reservation in schools, colleges and universities? And is it not only natural that Muslim youth, unable to make their way through life for lack of a sound modern education should turn to terrorism? The point is made that not all Muslim children attend madrasas and that those who do, come from the economically under-privileged classes, especially because education in madrasas is not only free but a significant proportion of those who attend get free boarding and lodging.
The whole cycle is self-defeating and self-destructive. A truly secular government?and the UPA pretends to be one?must make valiant efforts to convince Muslims, rich and poor, but especially poor, that if they do not keep up with the times, failure is written in their lives and they will have no one to blame but themselves. If Muslims want to survive in a harsh, competitive world, they would have to mend their ways. Madrasas and modernity do not go hand-in-hand. In a secular world a Muslim can still be a good Muslim. Islam and modernity are not antithetical. And the sooner Muslims attempt to get out of their self-created shells, the greater would be their chances to rise to the top, even without reservations. And greater would be their contribution to society and the entire nation. A word to the wise should be sufficient.