Thursday, October 21, 2004

India: Madrassas and Humiliations


Once an official has inspected the school and signed the certificate, it is eligible for a grant from the state to upgrade its facilities. This unfortunate institution is obviously presumed guilty till proved innocent.It is an extraordinary certificate. The first time perhaps that some of the worst prejudices about Muslims in general and madrassas in particular have found their way into a government document. For, at its heart, the form is nothing less than an indictment of all Muslim institutions
Madrassa Kids Need Zero -Terror Seal Or they don't get any state grant.
Why are the schools taking this humiliation?

SABA NAQVI BHAUMIK

Imagine a school that has to first acquire a certificate from the state saying 'it is not promoting anti-national sentiments, is not a den for terrorism and is not perpetuating communalism'.

Once an official has inspected the school and signed the certificate, it is eligible for a grant from the state to upgrade its facilities. This unfortunate institution is obviously presumed guilty till proved innocent.

Is this happening in Narendra Modi's territory? No, this bizarre scene is a reality for many Muslims in Mulayam Singh Yadav's Uttar Pradesh. A highly publicised state government scheme to upgrade madrassas requires the applicants to acquire precisely such a certificate from the district minority welfare officer!

The Uttar Pradesh Madrassas Vocational Training Scheme, to establish what is called the Mini ITIs, was launched on January 31 this year with great fanfare by the Mulayam Singh government. Till now, 140 madrassas have been given grants under the scheme. All of them have filled up the long and elaborate form attached to the brochure. Section four of the form, to be signed by an official, translated from Hindi, reads: "This is to state that I have inspected the madrassa and found that no anti-national or terrorist ideology is being preached and the institution is not disrupting the communal peace."

It is an extraordinary certificate. The first time perhaps that some of the worst prejudices about Muslims in general and madrassas in particular have found their way into a government document. For, at its heart, the form is nothing less than an indictment of all Muslim institutions.

Former chief justice of India A.M. Ahmadi is scathing in his criticism: "To treat every madrassa as suspect is as good as saying that every accused is guilty till he proves himself innocent. If the government is extending privileges on the condition of obtaining such a certificate, then it would smack of a bias and would, if challenged, be found to be in violation of Article 14 (equality) and Article 21 (life and livelihood) of the Constitution."

Any reasonable citizen would be amazed by a document that humiliates an entire community. Eminent legal expert and former chairman of the minority commission Dr Tahir Mahmood says: "It is outrageous, humiliating and infuriating. I have never come across any government document like this before. Someone should take the matter to the judiciary and those responsible for framing this should be held accountable."

The real twist in the tale is that it is not a BJP government that wants to ration out a certificate of patriotism to Muslim institutions. It's the minority-friendly Mulayam Singh regime. It was only after Outlook got a copy of the document and sought an explanation from the Uttar Pradesh government that panic buttons were pressed in Lucknow.

Chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav was quick to respond: "You know me. Do you think I am capable of doing something like this? I am glad you have told me about this.I promise you there will be an inquiry.In a few days we will fix the responsibility and punish them.These forms stand withdrawn immediately. I have issued orders." The next morning the CM called to say that the forms had been physically destroyed and named an official as being responsible.Clearly, the CM was upset at the prospect of angering his Muslim votebank.

State urban affairs minister Azam Khan, Mulayam's most high-profile Muslim leader, told Outlook: "This is a legacy of the BSP government. Some officer appointed by them has quietly inserted this clause. It should have been withdrawn. You must give some room for human mistakes." Yet, Azam Khan said he knew about the clause but was waiting till "new provisions" were made to officially withdraw it."I think it would be a matter of great humiliation for any Muslim institution to apply under such terms".

Yet, the shocking part is that 140 madrassas have actually done so. Hamidullah Bhat, director, minority welfare, first tried to defend the clause. "I don't see anything objectionable in this. There have been no complaints of madrassas being turned down or harassed." But once the instructions came from the chief minister's office, the department for minority welfare and the Waqf tried to do some quick damage control. State Waqf board secretary Mohammad Mustafa pointed out that he had only taken charge in May this year while the forms had been cleared by his predecessor M. Iftikharuddin, a BSP appointee. He also made a pertinent point: "What amazes me is that none of the madrassas complained or brought this to my attention."

Are madrassas so used to being treated as suspect that they found nothing out of the ordinary when prejudices were legitimised in a government form? Were they so desperate to get the grant that they were willing to put up with any humiliation? If so, it is another pointer to the pathetic situation of Muslims and their institutions. After all, the recent census data and several independent surveys have found Muslims and neo-Buddhists to be the most educationally and economically backward communities in the country.

Madrassas, which literally means schools, are usually supported by the community—offering free education to the poorer sections of Muslims. Some madrassas only teach students the Quran by rote. But there are thousands that provide a more complete education. In Uttar Pradesh itself, there are 1,096 madrassas that are recognised by the government and the Mulayam Singh government recently issued an ordinance that gives the degrees issued by these madrassas the same legal validity as state schools. And in spite of all the rhetoric against madrassas, there has never been any evidence that they produce terrorists. On the contrary, they provide a service to a community that has to largely fend for itself.


OUTLOOK 25th October 2004