Students seeking admission to the 60-year-old three-storeyed Madrasa Ziaul Uloom, Purana Gorakhpur, located at a stone’s throw from the Gorakhnath temple, must first show their Aadhaar card. Principal Mohammad Nuruzzaman Misbahi says the madrasa authorities have started asking for it from this year.
This is not because the madrasa in eastern UP is falling in line with an increasingly prevalent insistence on Aadhaar as a system of identification and authentication. “Ek toh Muslim hain, upar se madrasa chalate hain (for one, we are Muslim, and then we also run a madrasa). What if they link any of our students to terror? There could be false accusations, inspections and raids. We are careful now. We ask for Aadhaar cards and even talk to their homes before admitting students,” says Hafiz Nazirul Hasan, a teacher in the madrasa.
Madrasas offer free education and lodging to children of the poorest Muslim homes. At the Madrasa Ziaul Uloom, students come mostly from the families of daily wage labourers in surrounding districts and from Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand. Earlier, the madrasa opened its door to all who knocked on it, no one was turned away. No longer.
No madrasa in Gorakhpur has been raided since the Yogi government came to power in March. But that hasn’t stopped an inchoate fear outside from snaking its way in.
“Today, if I am walking in the market carrying a packet of mutton, how long will it take me to prove it is not beef? I could be attacked, a case may be lodged against me”, says Hasan. “Now we cook only chicken for the non-vegetarian meal that students get once a week. We have told the shopkeeper to deliver it to us, we will not take the risk of going to buy it from him”, says Hasan.
Apart from partaking of the anxieties outside their gates, madrasas are also feeling singled out by the Yogi government.
In August, the UP government launched a portal of UP Madrasa Board for online registration of the over 19,000 recognised and 560 aided madrasas in the state. The government’s ministers cited “complaints of irregularities”, the need to modernise madrasa education, the call of “digitisation” and transparency”.
In September the government stopped aid to 46 madrasas after a probe that apparently suggested they were not functioning within the required parameters. In October, it announced that NCERT books would be incorporated in the madrasa syllabus.
As in the case of its move against “illegal” slaughterhouses, government action on madrasas seems lawful, even though in the short run, it has meant cumbersome paperwork: “How many rooms in the madrasa, they ask, and what are the measurements?” says Principal Misbahi.
But the underlying problem is this: For long years, like slaughter houses, madrasas have existed in largely unregulated terrain, with “secular” governments turning a blind eye to the need to keep records of students, teachers and payments. This was a relatively inexpensive way to nurture a vote bank without doing the hard labour of addressing the socio-economic backwardness of a relegated minority.
“Chhota kaam kiya, bada nahin (the small stuff was done for Muslims, not the large or big)”, says Dr Sharif Ahmad Quraishi, academic and writer in Rampur. “Muslims were kept happy by doling out low-level jobs in local bodies, or by the loud attention given to the boundaries of graveyards”.
Now, the insistent attention by a BJP government which talks up the cow, targets slaughter houses and is headed by a man with a public record of minority-baiting, is stoking deeper discomforts and insecurities.
“There is no similar inspection of schools, even where only very few children study, or which lack proper buildings”, points out Mohammad Iliyas, who works in the Madrasa Ziaul Uloom’s administration.
“Help us, if you want us to modernise”, says teacher Hasan. “But you can’t do it by targeting us. Give us computers, operators, regular salaries”. Salaries at his madrasa come a minimum of six months to two years late.
“Of course, modern secular subjects must be taught in the madrasa”, says Salim Ahmad, who teaches science. “But for that, at least madrasas like ours, where there is regular teaching and students, must not be starved of funds”.
This year, alongwith other madrasas, Madrasa Ziaul Uloom was asked to videograph the Independence Day programme it holds every year, and send the CD to the DMWO (District Minority Welfare Officer). The diktat triggered resentment. “It was the compulsion that was the problem”, says Sajjad Ahmed, joint secretary.
Across the state, in western UP, in another madrasa, the same low hum of students memorising by rote is threaded by the same anxiety.
At the Jamia Faiz e Hidayat madrasa in Rampur, recognised but not government-aided — where, too, they insisted on Aadhaar cards for admissions for the first time this year as a precaution — madrasa president Shahid Ali says: “We have sent all the information to the portal, photos of the building, photos of teachers teaching, measurements of rooms, photos of members of the society that runs the madrasa. We could be derecognised. Where will our children go?” The madrasa only takes students till high school.
“We want to follow the law”, says teacher Mohammad Sajid. “But you have to see our stage of evolution and maturity. We serve the very poor. If madrasas close, these children will not get to study anywhere at all. They will while away their time, playing gilli danda”.
Timber businessman Muslim Moin Qureshi, who says with pride that his madrasa was the first in Rampur to take government aid, welcomed the opportunity to instal the biometric attendance system. “I can keep tabs on the teachers now”. But he asks: “Why not for all educational institutions? And how can I be expected to remake the rooms of my 50-year old madrasa to fit the new norms? I keep 60 children in the hostel for free. We have been doing social work since 1958, yet you are suspicious of us?”
A section of Muslims understands that there is an attempt to keep the debate tethered to communal issues, says Ajmal ur-Rahman, patron of ‘Muslim Voice of India’, an organisation which takes up community-related issues in Muzaffarnagar. “They want it to be about madrasas, beef and Vande Mataram. Muslims are resisting this, they want to say, you tell us, you (Yogi) were Gorakhpur MP for 25 years, yet children die of lack of oxygen in a hospital?”
At stake in the debate on madrasas, as on beef, is a hard-won balance as the BJP’s overwhelming victory, and installation of Yogi Adityanath as CM, is straining a tightrope.
“MLA-MP-mayor, all are BJP now, parshad se rashtrapati tak (from corporate to president)”, says Hafiz Nazirul Hasan of Gorakhpur’s Madrasa Ziaul Uloom.
“There is a pattern — gau raksha, triple talaq, mandir, madrasas”, says Rampur academic Sharif Ahmed Quraishi. “But we should not be silent. Khamoshi kisi cheez ka hal nahin hota (silence is no solution). We can talk to the BJP, go to it with our problems”.
In Lucknow, the certitude in the political corridors seems a long way from the roiling in places like Rampur.
“It is bitter medicine, but laabhkaari (beneficial) for the madrasas”, says Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya. The aim, he says, is “samaj samras ho (society must be harmonious)”. He casts the onus on the minority. “Doodh mein cheeni jaise (they must dissolve like sugar in milk). Doodh mein nimbu padta hai to galat hai (they must not bring sourness to the mix)”.
Transport Minister Swatantra Dev Singh says “We don’t want to shut any madrasa. But rashtriya dhwaj toh fehrana hi padega (you will have to compulsorily fly the national flag)… If Modiji doesn’t say Jai Shri Ram, will Azam Khan say it? If BJP doesn’t say Bharat Mata ki Jai, will Sonia Gandhi say it? If we don’t sing Vande Mataram, will Pakistan sing it?”
(Tomorrow: Eight months on, BJP’s opposition is only within)