Triggering a fresh controversy, Maharashtra is set to declare at least one lakh students in the state as “out of school” children, with the BJP-led government announcing that madrasas that do not offer mathematics, science and social studies will not be recognised as formal schools.
The decision was conveyed in a letter written by the state’s minority affairs department to the school education department, which is conducting a day-long survey on July 4 to determine the number of “out of school” children in the state.
With the move sparking fierce criticism from Muslim organisations and Opposition parties, Education Minister Vinod Tawde clarified that “students of madrasas that follow a proper academic curriculum” will not be counted as “out of school”.
Maharashtra’s Secretary (school education) Nand Kumar said Vedic schools teaching only Vedas would also be classified as non-schools.
Tawde added that the state government’s intention was to encourage regular academic subjects such as science, mathematics, social sciences and languages in madrasas, even while they continue to impart religion-based education.
Principal Secretary (minority affairs) Jayshree Mukherjee said that the state was not de-recognising madrasas but only trying to identify those that do not provide access to regular education alongside religious studies.
“A substantial number of madrasas do not provide regular education to students. Our purpose is to first find out the number of students without access to regular education. We will take remedial measures after analysing the numbers,” Mukherjee said.
However, Congress MLA from South Mumbai Amin Patel said it was “ridiculous” that the state government pays madrasas up to Rs 5 lakh each for various upgradation measures, and for teachers’ salaries, and then proposes to term their students as being “out of school”.
“Not only are there many madrasa students who go on to do professional courses, but as many as 536 madrasas received money from the government in 2014-15. Some received Rs 2 lakh, some got Rs 2.5 lakh, others more from the minority affairs department. How can the government now deem these madrasas’ children as out-of-school kids?” Patel asked.
According to the state’s minority affairs department, there are 1,889 registered madrasas across Maharashtra.
Under the Dr Zakir Hussain Madrasa Modernisation Scheme, launched by the previous Congress-NCP government in 2013, any madrasa that wishes to build infrastructure such as a laboratory or library or hostel can seek funds from the government. Assistance can also be sought for teachers’ salaries.
The scheme allows a maximum of Rs 2 lakh for infrastructure, Rs 3 lakh for salaries and Rs 50,000 for purchase of books, a total of Rs 5.5 lakh annually.
In 2014-15, 536 madrasas availed funds through this programme — the government has set aside Rs 20 crore for 2015-16.
While officials say the funds come with a rider that madrasas must offer maths, science and social studies, the government has not monitored compliance with this condition.
Ainul Attar, joint secretary, minority affairs department, said, “Last year was the first full year of the scheme. This year onwards, we are evolving a tighter monitoring mechanism with the help of collectors and the school education department.”
Madrasas in Maharashtra have their own certification, their students finishing as Maulvi, Alim or Fazil, various levels of accomplishment in Islamic studies.
Apart from religious texts, several students also appear for state board matriculation exams privately. There has been a long-standing demand that the state recognise certification provided by madrasas.
“How can they call our students out of school? Are they all illiterates? Madrasas have provided basic education in areas where the state cannot reach. We do not want government help,” said Maulana Mahmood Dariyabadi of the All India Ulema Council.
Maulana Mustaqeem Azmi of the Jamiat ul Ulema said that they would ask the state to scrap the order.
Congress MLA Patel as well as AIMIM MLA from Byculla Waris Pathan said they too would ask the government to rethink the decision.
Tawde, meanwhile, said the government merely wants to ensure that students from all communities get mainstream education through subjects such as science and mathematics.
“The intelligence level of people criticising the move to teach children additional subjects needs to seriously be questioned. I have to abide by the Right to Education legislation passed by Parliament, and I want all children in my state to be educated as per the national curriculum,” said Tawde, who was recently fending off allegations of his own degree being from a derecognised university.
Dilip Kamble, Minister of State for Minority Affairs, who kicked off the controversy on Wednesday when he said in Kolhapur that children from madrasas would be deemed out of school, said the issue was unnecessarily being given a political hue and that the government’s intention is not to discriminate against any particular community.
“Not just madrasas, but children studying in educational institutions of gurudwaras and churches that do not offer mainstream subjects will also be deemed as being out of school,” Kamble told The Indian Express.