The government’s proposal to bring forward a new law to regulate madrasas across the country comes not a moment too soon. The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions has reportedly submitted a draft of the proposed Central Madrasa Board Act, 2007, to the Human Resource Development Ministry, seeking to create a Central Madrasa Board (CMB) along the lines of the CBSE, with a fund, so that all Indian seminaries can be brought under one roof. It is a shame that Muslims here have a raw deal when it comes to education. Literacy rates among Muslim men are a good 10 per cent below the national average while Muslim women fare no better.
Reforms in the madrasa curriculum and system are long overdue and programmes like the CMB — if carried out with strong community involvement — could make a major difference. All the more so since it will be set up through an Act of Parliament and will be free from the hassles of State control. There is obviously no alternative to radical reforms in madrasas for modernising their syllabus and introducing science, technology and other subjects. This is crucial for preparing students for jobs in sectors like IT, manufacturing, services sector and the media. It’s doubtful if any two madrasas in the subcontinent offer the same syllabus, and even these invariably tend to be outdated. The quality of science education in Urdu schools, for instance, is evidently poor and is made worse by the paucity of texts and supporting popular science literature available in the language. Is it any wonder then that many of these institutions become factories that churn out large numbers of maulvis, only a few of whom qualify for any job?
Madrasa students must be encouraged to play a more constructive and socially engaged role in their capacity as would-be ‘religious specialists’. This will widen their career options, and narrow the distance between the ulema and the ‘modern’ educated Muslims, besides helping to empower marginalised sections of the community. Once that gets underway, a new grassroot-based community leadership will hopefully emerge, which can go beyond symbolic politics that only promote a ghetto mentality.