As disasters and tragedies stand lined up, the communal virus continues to be unleashed by sections of the media and, of course, by those manning the government. First these characters grabbed the Nizamuddin Markaz incident to spread vicious propaganda against Muslims. Now they have tried to intrude into madrasas, unsparing even of the poor children sheltered in them. Even those who are trying to provide these children safety, basic education and two square meals a day are being targeted.
The Right has been trying its utmost to paint all madrasas in every possible negative shade. This trend is part of the Hindutva agenda to spread the idea in society that it is alright to harass, humiliate and terrorise the madrasa children and those who run them.
Earlier, well-known literary figures such as Munshi Premchand had studied in the madrasas of their villages and towns. But, of course, those were those good old days when sense and sanity prevailed and the communal virus had not intruded to sap the joy out of our lives. In those days, senior government officials were careful and sensitive enough to not hurt or cause anguish by label the ‘Other’. Today senior bureaucrats in the Union Health Ministry do not hesitate to prefix terms such as “Markaz” or “Tablighi” to corona-stricken patients.
In the last two years, many madrasa children in Uttar Pradesh have been attacked by right wing outfits. Now this has happened even in Delhi, the capital. Yet there is no public or collective hue and cry. No television programming on this dark reality. No minister or chief minister visited the victims and ensured the culprits were booked. There is no focus on the tragedies and hurdles and communal attacks that these hapless children face. Why?
This scare of goon brigades haunts Muslim families in rural pockets of western Uttar Pradesh and many places in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. During interactive meets, distraught mothers have told me that they have withdrawn their children from regular schools because RSS workers would harass them as they walked to the schools.
In recent years, Muslim families face another dilemma: whether or not to enrol children in government schools of BJP-ruled states because they follow Hindu religious practices such as surya namaskar, recitation of shlokas and so on. There are also incidents of Muslim children being ill-treated by teachers and school staff.
Of course, this hounding of madrasas and their students fits well with the right wing’s agenda to portray the Muslim community in bad light. Today this impression is being created by manipulating the novel coronavirus. Yesterday it was very conveniently centred around terrorism and terrorists. To link madrasas with terrorists and terror activities is a convenient ploy to attack the minority community while concealing the regime’s failures.
Several scholars have pointed out that the right wing forces had, not long ago, accused Christian missionaries of converting students and now they are levelling terror charges against Muslim-run schools. As the late social reformist-activist Asghar Ali Engineer had said, “I don’t know of any madrasa which is linked with terror activities. If one were to talk of the particular madrasas in Pakistan, then its significant to know that they were started by the CIA for a specific purpose!”
A while ago, when I asked scholar-journalist Zafar-ul-Islam Khan why madrasas get linked to terrorism, he had told me that when LK Advani had said that madrasas are places of terrorist activities, “We had not just written strongly countering this, but even sent a team of 10 to 12 reporters to madrasas on the Indo-Nepal border to study the situation for themselves. And there was nothing! I myself have studied in a madrasa and there’s nothing in madrasas except teaching.”
“In fact, 60% of the curriculum in madrasas is dedicated to teaching regular subjects such as Hindi, English, social sciences. About 40% is religious study. Tell me what is wrong with that,” Khan had said.
Again, years back, when I had asked Mirwaiz Omar Farooq to comment on the right wing’s allegations about madrasas, called it nothing but sheer propaganda. “On the pretext of terrorism, right wing people are attacking madrasas...It is the Hindutva brigade’s agenda to spread such disinformation,” he told me.
I have been visiting madrasas for several years and seen the bare basics in those madrasas, and the children being raised in them in conservative and traditional ways, grasping the basics of survival. Also, a large number of madrasas do not have funds to hire teachers or procure modern-day gadgets such as computers. A large number of madrasas are not recognised by the State Education Boards, so the poor madrasa-educated child can either become a maulvi or his family’s poverty. It is unfortunate that the Muslim community has not thought in terms of providing vocational training to hundreds and thousands of these madrasa children…
Each time I visit a madrasa, I learn, to my deepest regret, that these children from humble backgrounds have ended up in madrasas, where their poor relatives have sent them. What does the future hold for them? Why does the Muslim community not play a positive role to secure the future of these thousands of young children? Why can they not be given vocational training too? The maulvis and madrasa administrators have no resources. Beyond the basics, they are actually helpless.
I had suggested to some maulvis that they visit the Human Resource Development Ministry and avail of welfare funds for minority education. They felt that a “bearded and shervani-clad Muslim” would find it difficult to even get an appointment with the babus in the sarkari bhavans.
This “reality” was confirmed by several Muslim activists I spoke to. I recall a bureaucrat (then working with the central government) telling me that funds meant for “minorities’ welfare”, more often than not lay unutilised or were diverted to other purposes.
The truth is the right wing rulers of the day will not reach out to the madrasa children. Another dark reality is that none of the concerned commissions have spoken out when madrasa children were thrashed and attacked by goons. So it is left to the community leaders and to activists to reach out to them and the maulvis with a helping hand and stop the hounding of poor madrasa children by right wing hands.
The author is a freelance journalist and commentator. The views are personal.