In his book Islam and the Muslims of India, S S Gill makes some significant observations regarding the education of Muslim children in India. Education, it is well to remember, is the key point in the development of children into healthy, economically self-sufficient young men. But ?education? is an all-encompassing word, open to misinterpretation. It is imparted as much in government-funded primary, secondary and high schools as in madrasas where religious education is imparted. What is more important for a growing child: to learn the sciences?chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology and ought else?or to learn the tenets of religion?
Any normal parent one believes, would opt for their children to learn the arts and sciences. But the average?largely poor?Muslim parents, it would seem from statistics available in 1990 and quoted by Gill, prefer to send their children to madrasas. According to established facts, around 1990 there then were 6,285 Sunni madrasas in Kerala employing more than 42,575 teachers to teach 9,11,460 students. In the Calicut and Malappuram districts there were twenty Arabic-medium colleges supported by some Arab countries. On the stretch of road from Deoband to the foothills of Mussourie there were more maktabs and madrasas than in the capitals of some Muslim countries. Scores of Dim Talimi schools?more than 2,000, with an enrolment of 6,00,000 pupils functioned in Uttar Pradesh.
According to Gill, in just Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, more than 15,00,000 students attend religious schools at any given time. Gill quotes a Home Ministry Survey which has noted that there are 721 madrasas catering to 1,20,000 students in Assam, 1,825 madrasas serving more than 1,20,000 students in Gujarat, 961 madrasas with 84,864 students in Karnataka, 6,000 madrasas catering to 4,00,000 children in Madhya Pradesh and 1,780 madrasas with an enrolment of over 25,000 students in Rajasthan. There are apparently about 3,24,000 students attending madrasas in West Bengal and about the same number in Bihar. Writes Gill: ?The alumni produced by these madrasas conform to a rigid pattern of thought and behaviour and their world view is cast in a mould designed several centuries ago. Millions of Muslim children in India who attend madrasas are today growing up with hide-bound, antiquarian attitudes, which put them on the backfoot as far as competition in modern society is concerned?.
Is this the fault of the government, whether of the NDA or UPA? Gill avers that ?the pattern of education in a community should be a matter of the highest concern to its leaders and it is for them to realise that modernisation of madrasas would enable madrasa graduates to compete successfully in the job market?. According to the Sachar Committee report, as against a population of 13.4 per cent, the share of Muslims in State employment is 6.3 per cent. In Public Sector undertakings, their overall presence in Group A posts is 7.2 per cent and in Group B posts, 10.9 per cent. Incidentally resource constraint is not the main reason for the lack of educational and industrial infrastructure for the Muslims.
According to Home Ministry estimates(quoted by Gill), Indian Muslim receive around $ 250 million (more than Rs 1,100 crore) per year as donations from the Gulf and other Muslim countries through various channels. The Sachar Committee itself has estimated that there are 4.9 lakh registered Waqf properties in India, with a book value of Rs 5,468 crore. At the time of Independence, there were only a few schools and one college under Muslim management in Kerala, a relatively small state. Presently, apparently, the community runs ?hundreds of schools and centres of higher learning, including three dozen engineering and two dozen nursing colleges?. If Gill is to be believed, though Muslims constitute only 5.6 per cent of Tamil Nadu'spopulation, the community runs twenty seven degree and twelve engineering colleges, thirteen polytechnics and 125 higher secondary schools.
Similarly, Muslims in Andhra Pradesh run thirty five engineering, thirty pharmaceutical, twelve nursing and two medical colleges, about 1,000 higher secondary schools and thirty arts and science colleges. Again, the claim is made that the performance of Muslims in Karnataka is not only comparable but more impressive in the areas of technical and professional education. Who says Muslims are neglected as a minority? Even to claim that Muslims are poor and economically downtrodden is to mislead people. Gill quotes the appraisal of the employment patterns and economic status of various religious groups conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) and some other reliable bodies.
According to them 65.9 per cent of Muslims live in kutcha houses as compared to 55.2 per cent Hindus. Of the seven Productive Assets examined, 8.5 per cent of Muslim house-holds own tubewells as compared to 8.3 per cent of Hindus households. The figures regarding generator sets are 1.2 and 0.6 respectively; for bullock carts, 8.2 and 11.6 and for tractors 1.8 and 2.6 Muslims earn Rs 22,807 per year as compared to Hindus who earn Rs 25,713. All these figures indicate that Muslims are not that poor relatively, as is generally made out. And, owing to their long tradition of excelling in arts and crafts, 53.4 per cent of Muslims are self-employed as against 35.9 per cent Hindus. On the other hand, 46.7 per cent of Hindus pursue regular salaried professions as compared to 28.9 per cent Muslims. These are not figures plucked out from nowhere, but found out in surveys. Yes, in some ways Muslims are behind Hindus but who is to be blamed for that?
Gill makes a point when he says that Aligarh Muslim University'sname has not appeared in the top twenty five universities whose students competed for the IAS examination. Sad. There are occasions when one must think twice before charging the government or even private bodies with showing discrimination against Muslims. Muslims were betrayed not by Hindus but by their own co-religionists, the rich and men of the middle class, who chose to migrate to Pakistan.
Yet, according to the Sachar Report, Muslims in Gujarat are far ahead of the national average on most social and economic indicators and the Bohra and Khoja Muslims have a long tradition of doing well in trade and commerce. It is time to look a little more objectively about alleged economic isolation of Muslims. Some of the isolation is self-inflicted. No one has prevented Muslims from getting into the mainstream. The sooner Muslims realised it and changed their mind-set, the better for all concerned.