The Maharashtra government’s decision to treat madrassas giving only religious education as non-schools cannot be faulted. To be called an educational institution, the school should also teach mathematics, English, science and social science, as prescribed by the state education board. The decision satisfies the Right to Education Act which defines a school. The decision is also applicable to Vedic schools that teach only the Vedas. A person who studied only Islamic history and teachings will not be considered educated. Such madrassas will not be eligible for government grant or subsidy. Calling the decision as targeting Muslims is missing the point. It is a wake-up call.
The Muslims have, time and again, proved that they are not averse to education, including higher education. Given equal opportunity, they do exceedingly well in education. In any case, it is the poor who send their wards to the madrassas. Since education in most madrassas is free, the parents do not have any say in their management. There is also no one to monitor the quality. As a result, thousands of children complete their education in madrassas without learning any language other than Arabic and have no understanding of science, mathematics and social science. Such students once they complete prove unfit for jobs and end up in religious institutions with no scope for career growth.
Unfortunately, some of them are also recruited by agencies inimical to the state. They lack the ability to differentiate and get carried away when extremism is couched in religious terminology. When the state is unable to provide free education to children who attend madrassas, their closure cannot be an option. In some states like Gujarat, madrassas provide modern education using tools such as computers and the Internet along with religious education. The Maharashtra government’s decision should encourage the madrassas to change their syllabi so that students acquire the skills necessary to compete in the job market. Once they have acquired the basic skills, those interested can go in for higher studies in Islamic history and theology.
Alas, the present system is aimed at keeping a section of the Muslim community in darkness, which is not in the interest of either the community or the country.