Some say it is draconian, others want issue settled amicably

The exclusion of madrasa education from the ambit of the Right to Education Act, 2009, has split the Muslim community — between those who see the law as “draconian” and “anti-Muslim” and those who want the controversy settled sensibly, without recourse to anger and agitation.

The issue came into focus recently with Mahmood Madani of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hindi describing the Act as a threat to Muslim religious schools. So far, madrasas have enjoyed a fair amount of freedom with no specific obligation to seek recognition from the government. This leeway was granted by Article 30 of the Constitution, which allows minorities “the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”

The problem arises from the fact that the RTE Act defines “school” — whether government, aided or private — as any “recognised school” imparting elementary education. This definition does not include madrasas. Section 18 makes “a certificate of recognition” mandatory for all schools. And Section 19 prescribes stringent conditions — such as building and classroom specifications, teacher-student ratio, study hours, library and playground facilities — for obtaining recognition.

This raises questions: Does the RTE Act run afoul of Article 30 where the emphasis is on “choice”? If so, what is the remedy?

The Hindu spoke to a cross-section of Muslim leaders and scholars. Niaz Ahmed Farooqui, secretary, Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, called the RTE Act “draconian” and accused the Central government of trying to monopolise and control education which was a State subject. “The law says no one can run a school without prior permission. Does that mean madrasas will be prosecuted? How can civil society accept this? How can you take away rights given to us by the Constitution?”

Miscommunication

Mujtaba Faruque of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind pointed out that only 4 per cent of Muslim children attended madrasas.

“We should remember that this Act is important for 96 per cent of Muslim children. There is obviously a miscommunication between the government and community leaders. The RTE Act was long overdue and we welcome and support it. A simple amendment to the Act will solve the problem.”

“Progressive law”

Lok Jan Shakti Party leader Abdul Khalique echoed the sentiment. “The RTE Act is a progressive law and let us not oppose it. Instead, let us find a way to reconcile Article 30 with the RTE Act.” Mr. Khalique said progressive Muslims were keen that the issue be resolved amicably. Mr. Khalique, who runs an institution for Muslim girls, said there was a lot of confusion over minority educational rights. “We need an omnibus, comprehensive legislation to clear the contradictions.”

Aijaz Ilmi, columnist, said the Act had erred vitally in not recognising madrasas, and compounding the error by imposing conditions too difficult to meet. “Naturally the community fears that madrasas will be shut down,” he said. “Madrasas exist because of poverty, because there are not enough normal schools in Muslim localities. They are providing a service. Besides, many of the madrasas are today teaching English and the Sciences. Any law is for the benefit of the people and the government must talk to them and incorporate their views.”

Misconceptions

Abusaleh Shariff, member-secretary of the Sachar Committee, placed the matter in perspective. He said misconceptions abounded about madrasas. There were State variations and, in most cases, madrasas only supplemented modern education. In Kerala, 40 per cent of madrasa-going children were Hindus. It was also necessary to keep in mind that madrasas admitted only boys.

Mr. Shariff recognised nonetheless that madrasas, which taught Urdu, fulfilled a “felt need” in the community. “The solution offered by the Sachar Committee was to integrate madrasas with mainstream schooling by means of an ‘equivalence' measure.”

Correction

The second paragraph of the above report said: “The issue came into focus recently with Mahmood Madani of the Jamiat Ulama-e- Hindi describing the Act as a threat to Muslim religious schools.” It's the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind.

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