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Mainstream, VOL LV No 15 New Delhi April 1, 2017

Can Madarassas be compared with RSS-run Schools?

Sunday 2 April 2017

by Ram Puniyani

Digvijay Singh’s tweet ‘Madrassas and Sarswati Shishu mandirs (SSM), both spread hate’ (February 23, 2017) has evoked a lot of response from diverse sections. On the one hand, Muslim groups have taken him to task for demonisation of the Madrassas, and on the other, the RSS supporters have come out attesting the utility of the SSMs and criticising him for comparing the SSMs with Madrassas which are ‘dens of terror’, according to them.

 The demonisation of the Madrassas world-wide began particularly after 9/11 2001, when the US media propagated the phrase ‘Islamic Terrorism’. This was the time when the role of the Taliban-Al-Qaeda, trained in the Madrassas of Pakistan, came to the fore. The type of education given in these few Madarssas became synony-mous with ‘Madrassas’ as such. This is far from the truth as the Madrassas in Pakistan, where the indoctrination for terror took place, were few in number and are not representative of Madrassa education and its system in any way.

 As such Madrassa education in India has been fairly old. It was mainly sticking to the recitation of Koran in particular, ‘learning it by the rote’ method. There is a long history of religious and secular education among Muslims in India. The Muslim religious education, focusing on Islam and the training of Ulema, culminated in the establishment of many well- known seminaries like Deoband and Barelvi. Muslim secular education began with the efforts of Sir Syed, who contributed massively in the introduction of modern, rational and scientific education among the Muslims. Interestingly, the Maulanas of most seminaries were against British rule, supportive of the freedom movement and opposed to the partition of the country.

 Today Madrassa education in India is restricted to hardly two-to-three per cent of Muslim children. Mostly poor, un-affording Muslims send their children there. These schools are also in the areas where the reach of the public schooling system is not high. Some Madrassas also support food and lodging for the children which become an additional incentive for the poor Muslims to send their children, away from the mainstream system which is inaccessible to them anyway. While not totally keeping pace with modern education, at places these Madrassas have tried to introduce subjects like English, Mathematics and other secular subjects.

 In contrast in Pakistan a few Madrassas, where the Al-Qaeda and its clones had been given training, were part of the US plan to raise fanatic groups which could be marshalled to join the battle against the Soviet forces which had occupied Afghanistan towards the end of the Cold War. These Pakistan-based madrassas adopted a distorted version of Islam, totally intolerant of dissent, promoting violence against infidels (kafirs) in the name of jihad. These madrassas were supported by the US goal of control of the oil resources of West Asia. Their syllabus was planned from Washington. Their genesis and growth had three pillars: US planning and funding, distorted version of Islam from Saudi Arabia and their location in Pakistan. The generalisation that all Madarassas are dens of terror came up through the propaganda by the vesed interests. Few Madarassas, which played the negative role, are being equated to the whole Madrassa system, so to say. This generalisation, prevalent in society, has gone far and deep and this is what gets manifested in the tweet by Digvijay Singh, which says: “Is there a difference between Madrassas and Sarswati Shishu Mandir schools run by the RSS? I don’t think so. Both spread Hatred.” Similarly earlier Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the former CM of West Bengal, had also commented on the Madrassas in a negative tone.

On a totally different wavelength the RSS-BJP combine, who are working for the goal of a Hindu Rashtra, has set up Sarswati Shishu Mandirs, which—along with other institutions set up by this combine—are schools propagating the world view of Hindu nationalism-cum-chauvinism. They have been making news off and on for the content of their curriculum. The demonisation of Muslim kings, glorification of Hindu kings, spread of Islam by the sword, the conspiracy of Christian missionaries, the unsuitability of secularism for our country, the folly of Gandhi-Nehru in imposing Western secularism on India are a regular part of the syllabus of these schools. Additionally, caste/gender-biases and glorification of the nationalism of Hitler and Mussolini are the ground on which these children are raised. It is this combination which makes the students of these schools look at Muslims and Christians differently. It is due to this that Gandhi and Nehru are looked down by the products of these schools.

Their curriculum distorts history to create dislike for religious minorities and also under-mines rational thinking and scientific temper and promotes the mythology of ‘We have been the world teachers, equipped with all the wisdom and scientific achievements like plastic surgery, aviation science or stem cell technology’. These notions are being made to seep into the society very subtly and deeply, adding to the foundation of sectarianism which is a part of the RSS propaganda. It is not religious education so to say; it is motivated by the political agenda of sectarian nationalism.

 The need for differentiating wheat from chaff is urgent and great. While some Madrassas, based in Pakistan, surely sowed seeds of hatred of those differing from their own rigid inter-pretation of Islam to the extent of carrying out violence against those differing from them, most Madrassas are centres of Islamic education. The SSMs, on the contrary, are the ones disseminating education along the Hindutva political line. Leaving aside the Madrassas where the Al-Qaeda clones were groomed, the whole Madrassa system is very diverse. They cannot all be put in the same category of spreading hate, the way Digvijay Singh is doing. Such expressions are superficial, non-factual and also show that leaders like Digvijay Singh are unwilling to do their home-work to under-stand the genesis of terrorism in West Asia, its etiology being in the politics of oil control masquerading as Islam. It is thus an unfounded generalisation which demonises the minorities and sows the seeds of suspicion against them which is not in the interest of our country.


The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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