India is turning down a request from Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, for assistance in revamping and modernising its vast madrasa education network.
The HRD ministry and the external affairs ministry have concluded India should politely maintain its distance from the Indonesian proposal, to avoid potential religious or diplomatic complications, government sources have told HT.
The decision comes despite the Indian permanent representative to Unesco recommending that India support the project, sources confirmed. Indonesia first sought help for revamp of its madrasa education and curriculum at a Unesco forum.
"It is a risk we simply cannot take," a government official said, articulating the "level of sensitivity" with which the government has approached the Indonesian proposal.
Ahead of Indonesian President Bambang udhoyono's visit to India as a chief guest for this year's Republic Day, Indian officials who were to participate in talks with the Indonesians were specifically instructed to turn down the madrasa assistance proposal if raised.
India's caution is a result of the experience of other countries that have in recent years tried to participate in religious teaching programmes on predominantly Islamic countries.
A US diplomatic cable released by wikileaks late December 2010 revealed how the US and UK were trying to influence madrasa curriculum in Bangladesh, with support from the government of that country. The leaked cable triggered protests among sections of Muslims in both Bangladesh and in the US and UK.
The decision to stay away from the Indonesian request comes even as India is itself implementing an unprecedented madrasa modernisation programme.
The ministry programme steers clear of any intervention in religious instruction, but offers financial and technical assistance to madrasas that take up science and math teaching along with religious lessons.