Govt open to modernising madrassas

New Delhi, India - In the face of protests from Muslim groups like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat-e-Uleme-Hind, the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions has set the ball rolling for madrassa modernisation by proposing an autonomous Central Madrassa Board.

A conference on Modern Education in Madrassas on Sunday, attended by HRD minister Arjun Singh and Justice M S A Siddiqui, chairperson of NCMEI, laid out the broad contours of the proposal which he insisted had not come from the government and is not yet final.

"A final view would be taken after the conference and further discussions,"he said. Despite Justice Siddiqui's clarification and Singh's statement that he has come only to listen to what the community wants, a note of caution was struck by people like Anjar Shah Kashmiri, revered teacher from Deoband, and Syed Shahabuddin, head of the All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat.

Kashmiri said the government "should assure (the community) that it would not interfere in our religion".

"Otherwise, who does not want modern education?"he asked. Shahabuddin was more critical. He said if only 4% of children go to madrassas, where is the need to modernise them. He feared that it could be an attempt by government to interfere in the working of the madrassas.

The proposed CMB, Siddiqui said, is a must if the Muslim community has to join the mainstream and savour India as a superpower in 2020.

CMB, he said, would be set up through an Act of Parliament and not executive order. The corpus can be built by the community itself for which he demanded exemption from income tax and the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.

For madrassas, he said, it would be optional to affiliate to CMB. But CMB would not be interfering in the functioning of affiliated madrassas.

CMB would have no control over state madrassa boards. But Siddiqui insisted government has nothing to do with the proposal. "Government would come into the picture later,"he said.

Arjun Singh and his deputy, M A A Fatmi, presented the counterpoint on madrassas and the allegation that they have turned into seats of teaching terror.

While Singh, citing the Sachar Committee report, said only 4% of Muslim children go to madrassas, Fatmi said more and more madrassas are linking to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

For instance, in UP, 1,700 madrassas out of 16,000 are linked to SSA while in Bihar 4,700 have joined SSA but 9,000 are still out of it.

Government is also translating learning material for vocational courses in Urdu and madrassas are being linked to National Institute of Open School, Fatmi said.

Incidentally, the Sachar Committee's report asks government not only to modernise madrassas but also provide good quality, subsidised 'mainstream' education and create an adequate infrastructure for education of Muslims.