In Maharashtra, a survey planned to enumerate children who are out of school has turned into a public relations fiasco, with Muslim bodies and the opposition up in arms against the Devendra Fadnavis government. One of the objectives of the survey is to identify madrasas that do not teach subjects like mathematics and social sciences, and declare them to not be schools. This would banish over one lakh madrasa students from formal education, unless they enrol in other schools. The intention behind the survey seems reasonable, which is to insist on secular subjects in the madrasa curriculum. But if minorities and their political champions find it objectionable, something is out of sorts. Far too late, the state secretary for school education clarified that his government will not discriminate between faiths — Vedic schools teaching only the Vedas will be classified as non-schools. By that time, first impressions had settled.
Ironically, these impressions have been assiduously cultivated by the BJP itself. Nationally, valourising yoga while failing to silence saffron activists who demonise madrasas as terrorist incubators has sent out a clear signal. The BJP-Shiv Sena government in Mumbai has drawn attention for being the first ever not to have a single Muslim minister, though the community comprises over 10 per cent of the state’s population. In March, Maharashtra secured a blanket ban on the beef trade, criminalising possession or sale with a five-year jail sentence and a fine. Days after that, it scrapped a five per cent reservation for Muslims. This was immediately controversial because of a perceived differential in treatment: the government had given legislative sanction to reservation for Marathas, despite a high court ruling against it, while scrapping the Muslim quota though the court had approved it in education.
In the modern world, instruction in scripture alone is insufficient, and instruction in the scripture of one’s own community alone pitifully so. However, the Sachar Committee report had revealed that only 4 per cent of Muslim children attend madrasas, many of which presumably teach secular subjects. Besides, it had said: “Muslim parents are not averse to mainstream education or to sending their children to affordable government schools.” The fact that an issue which affects a small fraction of the population can raise so many hackles should urge the BJP-Shiv Sena government to solve its own image problem before it tries to address the problems of minority communities.