A rather animated debate is on among different sections of the Muslims as also among the civil and the uncivil society in India about the Madrasa, their importance, the role they play and the need to make them more modern, thereby converting them into institutes that are more relevant to the contemporary requirements of both the Muslims and the market. The former is openly stated while the latter is rarely articulated.
Before proceeding with an exploration of some of these concerns and to try to understand the trigger behind the proselytising zeal to modernise the madrasa, let us understand the institution of the madrasa itself.
The word is a derivate of Dars – lesson, the word Maddarris – teacher and Tadrees – to teach, all have the same root. None of these have any denomination specific significance just as Maktab, Paathshala and School too have no denomination specific significance. Before the English inspired ‘School’ became ‘the place of learning’ for the young, the madrasa served this purpose. Most madrasas were open to all, (remember that many schools that were started in India at the time did not welcome all castes, in fact they excluded most castes) It is difficult to say how many, if any, of these madrasas were co-educational and yet co-educational madrasas must have existed or else the much distracted Majnoon and the doe-eyed Laila could not have met in the famous tragedy. The love affair between the two flowered under the unwatchful eyes of the maddarris.
The madrasa was not traditionally a place that only imparted religious education. The madrasa Ghazi-ud-Din Started in the first decade of the 18th century, that was to later become the Delhi College, was a major centre of education that aside from teaching the Quran, Islamic Jurisprudence and fiqah etc also offered courses in Philosophy, oriental disciplines, languages, literature, Arithmatic and the like. Even to this day the Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband, aside from being a major centre for Islamic education also conducts courses in Urdu, Persian, Hindi, English, Geography, Arithmatic, Arabic Grammer & composition and Calligraphy.
Traditionally subjects like mathematics, science, philosophy, engineering, astronomy, history, medicine were also taught in madrasas and till well after the colonisation of India by the British many Madrasas continued to admit students who were not Muslims. The image of the madrasa as primarily an institution that imparts religious education alone and is open only to Muslims is thus a fairly recent development.
As per the data provided by the Sachchar committee report only three percent of Muslim Children of school-going age go to Madrasas and not to any other kind of school, an overwhelming majority of these 3 percent, would, I believe, belong to socio economically backward communities. Of the remaining 97 % of school going children of Muslim parents go to state or privately managed schools or do not go to any school at all.
According to ‘Flash Statistics: Elementary Education in India and Progress Towards Universal Elementary Education (2006-07)’, released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), about 30% of Muslim children do not join schools at all, while the number rises to 56% at the upper primary level.
So while talking of masdrasas and issues connected with educating the Muslim child we are dealing with two problems, 1) how to get the out of school 30 % into the school and 2) how to modernise Madrasa Education that caters to 3 % of the school going Muslim Children.
To my mind the basic issue is to ensure that education reaches those Muslim children who have been denied this right. The issue of lack of access to education for the children of Muslims is tied up with the issue of the muslim children going to madrasas.
Both the Sachchar Committee and the Knowledge commission have pointed out that areas with majority Muslim population are overlooked when it comes to implementation of government schemes and this includes the absence of govt. schools in areas of Muslim concentration. Travel the length and breadth of this country and you will find the same pattern. This despite the fact that wherever a govt. school has come up in the vicinity of a madrasa one finds more Muslim parents opting to send their children to govt. run schools.
The question that needs to be addressed, therefore, is not the modernization of Madrasa education but setting up of more primary, secondary and higher secondary govt schools in areas of Muslim concentration. Modernization of madrasas, that cater only to around 3% of muslim school going children is not likely to have any perceptible impact on the overwhelming majority of Muslim children of school going age because they do not go to the madrasas.
The idea of modernizing madrasa education is in any case an oxymoron. If modernizing is taken to mean infusion of new technology, like computers, DVD and OH projectors etc and this is being tried in some places, one can say with a certain amount of conviction that it will not yield the desired modernity. New gadgets may change the techniques of knowledge transmission they are unlikely to have any impact on the content being delivered because the curricula will remain unchanged. Children will continue to be taught subjects like Fiqah, the Quran and the Ahadis, necessary for those who want to pursue a career as Imams or Muftis. But this line of modernization will not equip them to find jobs. In any case how many Imams of Mosques can a largely impoverished populace sustain?
If on the other hand modernization is taken to mean introduction of secular curricula, this too is unlikely to work, because the madrasa faculty is not likely to teach either the Big Bang or the Theory of Evolution, (just as the Saraswati Vidya Mandirs do not tell their students that all Hindus are not vegetarians or that mythology and History are two different things). Doing so militates against the very principles upon which the Madrasa Nisabs (curricula) are organized. The teachers in the Madrasas are in any case not trained teachers in a modern sense and to expect them to overnight turn into trained teachers is asking for too much.
Modernisation of the madrasa would therefore involve introducing secular disciplines of education and appointing trained teachers, providing the madrasas with all the wherewithal of a modern school and eventually turning it into a modern school.
When we know that the net result of this painful and contentious exercise is going to be the creation of regular govt. schools, why don’t we just go ahead and open regular schools in Muslim majority areas and be done with it. Staff them with properly trained teachers, ensure due representation to Muslims in the staff, without staffing them exclusively with Muslims and run them as regular schools.
This is precisely what the knowledge commission has recommended – Muslim majority areas are overlooked during implementation of schemes. it is necessary to increase public expenditure for development of “physical and social infrastructure for schooling in Muslim Majority areas and to reorient official strategies to ensure that Muslim children have better access to schools.
Despite clear pointers by both the Sachchar Commission and the Knowledge Commission to the effect that Muslims are the most backward in terms of education and that they have been discriminated against in the allocation of resources in education, as also in other areas of socio-economic development and that the only way out is to increase allocation of resources to overcome this lag and despite the fact that Muslims have shown no specific preference for Madrasa education, the only panacea for educational backwardness of the community, that is being shoved in our faces day in and day out is the ‘modernisation’ of madrasa education. As if the only place where the Muslim will go to be educated is the Madrasa.
One of the reasons for this insistence is the decision of the state to rapidly withdraw from the social sector and to increasingly hand over the entire field of education to private operators. What is surprising is the fact that even in the face of clear cut recommendations for increasing public out-lay in education by the knowledge commission – headed incidentally by one of the staunchest votaries of privatisation- the govt continues to harp on the theme of modernisation of madrasa education.
Is it because all this noise about ATR on the Sachchar Commission report is intended to be nothing more than a whole lot of hot air and that these hot air balloons will continue to be floated till the elections are over and then this report too will meet the same fate that earlier inquires on the status of the minorities have met.
Is it not a little strange that there seems to be no such concern for modernising the thousands of sarswati bal mandirs, that continue to spew venom against the minorities or to look at the functioning of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams who are every day creating an artificial Hindu identity for animist tribals in all parts of the country, before pushing them in the cauldron of communal strife, as was done at the time of the Gujarat Genocide in 2002 and the recent pogroms against the Christians in Orissa and attacks on churches and on Christians in other states.
The script seems to be clear as long as the Muslims remains confined to the madrasa and the ghettos that have been built for them they will not be able make too much noise about jobs and equal rights and the stray handfuls who do manage to breakout can easily be taken care off as was done recently in Batla House.