Nearly a year after India passed a landmark legislation to make schooling compulsory, influential madrassa administrators are preparing to resist it, citing the law as a threat to Muslim religious schools.
Seminary leaders from all sects will assemble in Delhi in July-end for consultations called by the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, the country’s largest cleric body.
Madrassas have questioned the “Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009”, informally called the right to education Act, on several counts, including their claim that it effectively outlaws Muslim seminaries. Some concerns may be legally valid, experts said.
The clerics had scuppered efforts of the previous UPA regime to regulate madrassas. Muslim religious leaders, who command powerful voting blocs, have had an uneasy relationship with the human resource development (HRD) ministry.
The brewing dissent has reached the doorsteps of HRD minister Kapil Sibal, who is said to be weighing options for a solution, such as an amendment. However, the government has not taken a view yet.
The new law, passed in August, makes free elementary school education binding for children of 6-14 years and empowers authorities to enforce it. It applies universally, except in J&K.
“The Act recognizes only one type of schools and only one type of education. It can be used to outlaw madrassas,” Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind leader and Rajya Sabha MP Mahmood Madni told HT.
Madni said the meeting would address the issues of “evolving a consensus among clerics to introduce secular subjects voluntarily and also seek changes to protect madrassas”.
Madrassas, estimated to be around 300,000, have often balked at efforts to supplement their purely theological curricula with secular subjects, like science.
“While remaining free to decide the religious curriculum, madrassas should allow secular subjects,” said Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor of the National Law University, Cuttack.
The right to education law, however, could be shaky on two grounds, Mustafa said. One, it is seen violating the right to set up minority institutions under Article 30 of the Constitution. Moreover, according to the new law, parents should make up 75 per cent of a school’s administrators. This violates another constitutional guarantee that gives minority institutions a virtual free hand in running their affairs.
In January 2009, the government made certificates by state madrassa boards equivalent to CBSE.
Experts, such as Jamia Millia Islamia's Arshad Alam, say unless followed up with “uniform curriculum” and “substantive reforms”, real benefits will continue to elude such students.
Clerics argued that since only 4 per cent of Muslims attended religious schools, the government should concentrate on the rest 96 per cent. However, mushrooming madrassas, with their free meals, accommodation and religious appeal, remain an attractive option.
Former vice-rector of the Darul Uloom seminary, Qari Mohammed Usman, termed the new law an attempt to gain “backdoor entry” into madrassas.