The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Minority panels clash over madarsa meet

Calcutta, June 1: The National Commission for Minorities has fired the second salvo in the war of ideologies between the BJP-led Centre and the CPM-led state government, a year from the next round of parliamentary poll.

A week after the state minorities’ panel read sinister motives into a decision by the national commission to convene a meeting of state madarsa board chiefs, the chief of the national body waded into the thick of controversy. The official reason for the convention of the board chiefs in Delhi on June 3 was to “look into problems faced by the madarsa system of education”.

In a letter to “Dear Judge Sahib” (state panel chief and former Calcutta High Court Justice K.M. Yusuf), the chief of the national commission, Tarlochan Singh, gave a point-by-point defence of its reasons to convene the meeting.

In a faxed message last month, the national commission invited all state madarsa board chiefs to the convention ad asked them to “bring along” the syllabi taught in all the classes.

The invitation, a few days after Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia demanded a probe into madarsa syllabi as the institutions had become “training centres of jihadis”, raised the hackles of the state minorities commission and the West Bengal Madarsa Board.

Yusuf said the national commission had no jurisdiction over the “madarsa system of education”. Board president Abdus Sattar backed Yusuf’s contention. The board is answerable only to the state education department and the Union human resources development ministry, Sattar said. Both Yusuf and Sattar said the madarsas in the state had around 15 per cent students and a more sizeable chunk of teachers from the majority community. The “system of education”, therefore, was “not the concern” of any minority body.

Singh, however, has drawn up an elaborate defence to justify his move. Telling “Judge Sahib” that his “doubts about the intentions” of the national commission were “unfounded”, the chairperson of the all-India body, reconstituted by the Centre a few months ago, admitted to not knowing the fact that non-Muslims formed a substantial part of madarsa students in Bengal.

“This has come to our notice for the first time,” Singh wrote.

Besides claiming that the national commission was empowered to look into the madarsa system of education, Singh said his panel needed to be aware of details of the work done by the madarsa boards to counter critics of this system. Making a case for the BJP-led Centre, Singh said it was trying to help madarsas across the country so that their students can have “normal” education in addition to the “religious education” they get.

The state minorities commission, however, is not buying the arguments. Iterating that a team from the state would not attend the convention in Delhi, Yusuf said the timing of the meet would lead Muslims to suspect that an all-India body set up to look after their problems was actually following leaders spewing venom at them.

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