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Formal education first, religious schools can come later

Exempting madrasas and Vedic pathshalas from application of the RTE goes against Article 21A —- a Fundamental Right.

analysis Updated: Jul 06, 2015 23:57 IST
Due-to-a-shortage-of-teachers-Shaukat-Jahan-has-to-teach-60-students-from-Classes-1-to-5-at-a-primary-school-in-Malihabad-district-of-Uttar-Pradesh-RTE-norms-state-that-the-teacher-pupil-ratio-must-never-exceed-1-40---Deepak-Gupta--HT-photo
Due-to-a-shortage-of-teachers-Shaukat-Jahan-has-to-teach-60-students-from-Classes-1-to-5-at-a-primary-school-in-Malihabad-district-of-Uttar-Pradesh-RTE-norms-state-that-the-teacher-pupil-ratio-must-never-exceed-1-40---Deepak-Gupta--HT-photo

The Maharashtra government’s move to conduct a survey to get a headcount of out-of-school children has shocked many Muslim leaders, the Opposition and a section of the intelligentsia that have termed the move as ‘anti-minority’. The state considers those going to madrasas and Vedic pathshalas as out-of-school children. Unfortunately, they have failed to realise that the state is performing its duty under the Right to Education Act (RTE) and the relevant rules that require it to ensure compliance of norms to be followed by educational institutions to qualify as schools.

Under the RTE Act, schools are required to teach mathematics, science, English and social studies. Second, the critics of the move have ignored the fact that the issue relates to the Fundamental Right to free and compulsory education of children, particularly those from poor Muslim families who go to madrasas that primarily impart religious education.

Then should the State abdicate its constitutional duty of providing free and compulsory education to children in the age group of six and 14 because some religious leaders object to it?

There appears to be a sinister design to communalise the issue by painting the exercise as an attempt to interfere with Muslims’ right to religion and their right to establish and administer educational institutions — a Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 30.

One needs to understand that Article 25 that guarantees right to religion is an inferior right as it is subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of Part-III of the Constitution that deals with fundamental rights. In case of a conflict between right to religion and right to free and compulsory education, the latter shall prevail.

Maharashtra has neither interfered with any religious practices of the community nor has it impinged on their right to establish and administer educational institutions. The exercise is singularly aimed at identifying schools that can be used to achieve the goal of children’s Fundamental Right to education.

As far as Article 30 is concerned, the community is free to run madrasas. But religious schools can’t expect the State to abdicate its constitutional responsibility towards children.

Unfortunately, the UPA in 2012 amended the RTE Act to declare that children’s right to free and compulsory education is subject to religious and linguistic minorities’ rights under Articles 29 and 30. According to the amendment, the RTE Act will not affect madrasas, Vedic pathshalas and other religious education institutions.

Exempting madrasas and Vedic pathshalas from application of the RTE Act is against the mandate of Article 21A — a fundamental right. This is unconstitutional as a Fundamental Right conferred by the Constitution can’t be taken away by an amendment to a statute i.e. the RTE Act.

Relaxation, if any, would be at the cost of the education of millions of children who are future of the nation.

Some people have suggested that religious education should be imparted to children in madrasas or Vedic schools only after school hours. But the best solution would be not to allow children to go to any religious school until they are 14 — the age up to which they have to be compulsorily in formal schools.

The author's views expressed are personal.