Madrasas across the country may be under the scanner for imparting Islamic fundamentalist teachings and accused of being factories of narrow orthodoxy,but in West Bengal,there are at least two where Hindu students outnumber Muslims.
Located about 110 km from Kolkata,the Orgram Chatuspalli High Madrasa in Burdwan district and Kasba MM High Madrasa in Uttar Dinajpur district are known for their academic excellence and secular credentials. While at Orgram,64 per cent 555 of the 883 students are Hindus,at Kasba,647 of 1,069 students,or 60 per cent,are Hindus.
It is not that lack of school facilities has forced the Hindu students in the village to fall back on the madrasa, says Md Younus Ali Baidya,a teacher at Orgram. The Orgram High School,which is Bengali-medium,up to Class XII and affiliated to the West Bengal State Board,is in fact just a stones throw away. It is the secular ambience and excellent standard of teaching which draw students, he says. Students leaving the madrasa have a degree equal to higher secondary status.
Even teachers at the madrasa come from both the communities. Of the 11 teachers at the Orgram madrasa,six teachers are Hindus and five Muslim.
Most of the students belong to families of agricultural labourers or daily wage earners. The guardians,who themselves lack formal education,have no hesitation in sending their wards to these institutes or having them study Arabic or Islamic Studies. These two subjects are compulsory in senior classes in madrasas and students have to appear for them in their Class X exam under the West Bengal Board of Madrasa Education.
Kanika Roy,studying in Class X,is one of the best students in Arabic at the Orgram Chatuspalli Madrasa. She can recite suras from the Quran and read Arabic as well as her Muslim friends. She also knows the biographies of Islamic saints and one of her favourites is Begum Rokeya,a Muslim social reformer from Bengal.
At the madrasa,students in lower classes get books free of cost while all girl students are given school uniforms in each session.
What will the children do studying only religious scripts? Instead,we lay more emphasis on teaching science and mathematics, says Headmaster Anwar Hussain.
The madrasa started in a thatched hut in 1975 on land donated by locals. It was affiliated to the West Bengal Board of Madrasa Education in 1980,and in 2005 was granted the status of a High madrasa.
When I got a job in the madrasa,I was a little hesitant. But working here I realised how different this place is,a very secular institution, says Suprabhat De,a senior teacher at the madrasa.
According to the Headmaster of Kasba MM High Madrasa,Md Gulam Mustafa,the institution since its inception in 1980 has drawn students from all segments. Guardians from the locality prefer putting their wards in the madrasa becaue of its academic excellence. The students are also open to Arabic language and Islamic Studies, he says.
Like at Orgram,in Dinajpur too,there is a government higher secondary school,Hemtabad,about a kilometre from the Kasba madrasa. However,parents prefer the madrasa. Out of the 11 teachers,three are Hindus.
We have students who pull rickshaws to earn their livelihood. We keep in constant touch with the parents and guardians and hold regular meetings to help them with books so that they do not drop out, says the headmaster.
West Bengal Minister for Minority Development and Madrasa Education Abduss Sattar says the two institutes only highlight the broadbased nature of all madrasas in the state. As per the figures,about 15 per cent students and 12 per cent teachers in madrasas across the state are Hindus, he says.
And its not just in their composition that Orgram and Kasba madrasas are like any other good school. The uniform is fixed,for both girls and boys,and they begin their day hailing the motherland in Bengali and singing the national anthem.