THE MISSING MUSLIM, PART- XV
SEEMA CHISHTI / Jayanth Jacob, Indian Express
Friday, December 01, 2006
NEW DELHI, NOVEMBER 30: This Sunday, the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, which comes under the Human Resource Development Ministry, prepares to host several Muslim clerics and scholars in Delhi to discuss the way forward on constituting a Central madrasa board to oversee ‘modernization’ of madrasas across the country. Grants, schemes and aid will possibly be on the cards. At present, only some states like West Bengal have a madrasa board which tries to ensure a certain degree of uniformity and introduction of modern elements in madrasa curriculum.
But data collected by the Sachar Committee — tasked by the Prime Minister to find out the status of Muslims, the panel’s report was tabled in the Lok Sabha today — rejects the theory that madrasas need to be reformed and aided by the state if the educational status of Muslims has to improve. Because the Sachar Committee data shows that only 3 to 4 per cent of school-going Muslim children go to madrasas. Dispelling the impression that Muslims flock to madrasas in large numbers, the Committee report concludes that “Muslim parents are not averse to mainstream education or to send their children to affordable government schools.”
The report also differentiates between the madrasa and the maktab. The madrasa is an established religious school, sometimes residential, and the maktab is the neighbouring school, attached to a masjid which supplements ‘mainstream’ school children with some religious instruction. Citing the example of Kerala (which has a sizeable Muslim population) “where 60,000 children are enrolled in madrasas and maktabs”, the report notes that maktabs are seen as necessary by those Muslim families who see ‘mainstream’ schools as providing inadequate knowledge of Urdu, or the Persian script, necessary to read the Koran. Hence, the need to supplement with a stint at the local maktab. The report explicitly asks policy makers to be careful and distinguish between maktabs and madrasas. The Sachar report, however, says that the government should provide “equivalence” to certain madrasa courses with Class XII and then graduation so that madrasa-educated children and young adults can compete for jobs with children from ‘mainstream schools’.
Asked if madrasa modernization, such as the kind being attempted by the HRD Ministry this Sunday, will help Muslim school children, Dr Abusaleh Shariff, member-secretary of the Sachar Committee and head economist at the National Council for Applied Economic Research, declined comment on any data in the report but said it was his view that ¿there is no need for the government to spend on madrasa reform.
“In case the government wishes to help Muslim children, it should be directly, through the provision of good quality schools that give Muslims living in Muslim areas a real choice. Whatever the government spends per child nationally on schemes like the mid-day meal scheme, ICDS schemes etc., should be provided directly to Muslim children rather than trying to modernize madrasas. Madrasas are not the place where most Muslim children are to be found. Instead of concentrating effort on trying to ‘modernize’ them, it would be more fruitful if the government directly set up good schools according to the national curriculum in Muslim areas,” Shariff said.
The report though points out another problem which Urdu-speaking Muslims in north Indian ‘mainstream’ schools face today. It records that “non-Urdu medium schools with a provision for teaching Urdu as an elective subject are few and far between. The report notes the fact that most north Indian states have opted for teaching only Hindi, English and Sanskrit” — effectively making Sanskrit a compulsory subject. As a result, “the performance of Urdu-medium students is very poor”. This reduces the functional worth of studying Urduand also provides the basis for downgrading facilities for learning of Urdu.
Citing Karnataka as an example, the panel recommends that steps should be taken so that Urdu is taught as at least an elective subject, in areas which have a substantial presence of Urdu-speaking population. Experts say that if Urdu is taught in ‘mainstream’ schools in Urdu-speaking areas, Muslim families will no longer feel the need to send children to maktabs and madrasas. This will help retain Muslim children in ‘mainstream’ schools.
What Sachar panel wants done
• Set up an Equal Opportunities Commission to look into grievances of deprived groups
• A carefully conceived ‘nomination’ procedure is required to work out fair representation at all levels of government
• Remove anomalies with respect to reserved constituencies under delimitation schemes
• Set up a ‘diversity index’ which will ensure equal opportunities to all socio-religious communities
• UGC grants to be linked to universities/colleges that provide admissions to diverse groups
• Experts drawn from the community to be put on relevant interview panels and board
• Work out mechanism to enable madrasa students to shift to regular/mainstream schools
• Promote policy initiatives that improve share of minorities
• Improve infrastructure for Muslims
• Provide financial, other support to occupations with Muslim concentration, where there’s growth potential