Ahead of last year’s Lok Sabha elections, the then Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra had announced a scheme of modernisation of madrassas (Islamic seminaries) in the state and had sanctioned annual aid ranging between Rs 2 and Rs 5.8 lakh for each madrassa. The BJP and Sena, who were in the opposition, had opposed the decision saying that it was an attempt to appease the Muslims. Not many madrassas, however, had availed of the scheme for reasons best known to them.
Now, eight months after the BJP-led government came to power in the state, another policy decision related to the madrassas is mired in a controversy. The state government’s decision of not recognising madrassas and religious schools like vedshalas (Hindu), gurudwaras (Sikh), which do not teach subjects such as English, Hindi, science, social sciences and mathematics, as formal schools has come under criticism.
The Congress and NCP and Muslim leaders have said the policy interferes in the religious teachings of the community even though it is on record that the madrassas which were to benefit from the Congress-NCP plan were also asked to adopt modern education. They were asked to teach Marathi, Hindi and English as subjects, along with science and social sciences.
Arif Naseem Khan, the then minority affairs minister, had said that the decision was based on the Sachar Committee report and the PM’s 15-point programme for uplifting the minorities. He had said the effort would help in improving the employability of the Muslim youth.
Till last year, the state minority welfare department had listed 2,637 madrassas across the state, of which only 1,889 were registered with the Charity Commissioner’s office or with the Wakf Board, and were hence eligible for the government scheme. If the BJP and Congress are on the same page, at least in giving modern and mainstream education to the Muslims, what is this hullabaloo all about?
It appears that the trust deficit between the BJP and the Muslims, especially because of the history they share, has made the latter question the party’s intentions. Many Muslim leaders have accused the BJP of harbouring a hidden agenda. They also say the BJP had no reason to scrap a job/education quota for Muslims in the state. These allegations have not been countered effectively, making the Muslims even more suspicious of moves that the BJP initiates in matters related to minorities.
This tussle leads us to a pertinent question: Will the Muslim community, which makes up almost 11% of the state’s population, continue to lose opportunities to raise the quality of life of its members by way of better socio-economic benefits, healthcare, education and jobs? Statistics released by Ahtesaab Foundation, a non-profit organisation, reveal that the state’s annual budget allocations for minority welfare were not more than 0.6% of the total outlays in the past many years. They also reveal that 60 per cent of Muslims in Maharashtra are living below the poverty line and 25 per cent are marginally above poverty line. Only 1.7 per cent of Muslim students are enrolled in IITs at the under-graduate level and only 2.2 per cent complete their graduation (in all streams).
The community needs to understand why it has not been able to become socio-economically stronger despite being used extensively for political gains. The community is highly urbanised, with 72% of Muslims living in urban areas. Mumbai alone has 20% of the total population of Muslims in the state. This means that the Muslims did not avail of what other urbanised communities have been able to get, but the blame for this disparity does not rest with the government alone. Muslims, too, need to question their community leaders and clerics who have denied them the advantages offered by mainstream education. The community should realise that anything modern doesn’t necessarily mean anti-Islam.
The time is ripe for Muslims to seek their legitimate rights in a democratic manner. The community should confront the government, if need be, but stay away from the forces that have been exploiting them for political gains. Muslims have backed the Congress regimes for decades but have been unhappy with the results. Making demands of the BJP, which is under constant pressure of being called non-secular, and ensuring they are fulfilled should yield something good for the community.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day