07/03/2015, 00.00
INDIA
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Maharashtra: Hindu nationalist government cracks down on madrassas

by Nirmala Carvalho
State authorities prepare to inspect 1,889 registered madrassas. Those that do not teach English, maths and science will lose their formal status as educational facilities. Critics slam the decision as "unconstitutional", but the government defends himself by saying that it wants to modernise education. Jesuit theologian and Islam scholar tells AsiaNews that the state should not interfere with schools, that its action “threatens democratic values."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Madrassas (Qur‘anic schools) that do not teach English, maths and science will lose their status as "school" and their students will be considered uneducated, the Government of the State of Maharashtra announced today. Tomorrow, the authorities also plan to inspect all of the state’s 1,889 registered Islamic schools.

Taken by the State’s Minority Affairs Department, the decision has been criticised by a number of political parties and Muslim organisations, which deem it as "unconstitutional".

Maharashtra’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defended the move by saying that it wants to "modernise and standardise" education.

Dilip Kamble, Minister of State for Minority Affairs, who kicked off the controversy on Wednesday when he said in Kolhapur that children from madrassas would be deemed uneducated, said the issue was being unnecessarily politicised and that the government’s intention was not to discriminate against any particular community.

In fact, “Not just in madrassas, but children studying in educational institutions run by Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and Churches that do not offer mainstream subjects will also be deemed as being out of school,” Kamble said.

For Fr Victor Edwin SJ, a theologian and expert on Christian-Muslim relations who heads the Vidyajyoti Institute of Islamic Studies (VIDIS), the decision by the Government of Maharashtra is a problem.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he noted, “Article 26 of the Constitution of India 1949, categorically affirms in no uncertain terms that ‘. . . every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and to administer such property in accordance with law’.”

The room provided by the Constitution of India honours and empowers minorities and marginalised groups; it provides them with their rightful place in Indian democracy and safeguards their rights and privileges.

"Madrassas in India are not into indoctrination, nor do they teach intolerance towards other religions,” said the Jesuit, who has visited several Qur‘anic schools.

“Some legal texts (used as curriculum) are very ancient. However, it is up to Muslim scholars to decide what is more relevant, and what to upgrade,” he said. “In my humble opinion, change must come from within and from Islamic intellectuals."

“In my intensive and extensive associations with Muslim scholars, they expressed the need to update the curriculum, and include science and mathematics in the curriculum,” he said.

In fact, 550 of Maharashtra’s 1,889 registered madrassas already do so. However, "many Mawlānā (Islamic teachers), whom I know personally, are opposed to government interference in madrassa administration and management,” the Jesuit clergyman said.

“This kind of interference should be avoided because it threatens democratic values ​​and creates a perception that the future of the poor, minorities and marginalised communities is jeopardised.”

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