Indians are caught in a pincer of religious fundamentalism — Islamic and Hindu. The result of this is the prevailing atmosphere of intimidation, fear and violence. In this unpleasant climate it is welcome that Darul Uloom Deoband, India’s oldest seminary, has chosen to distance itself completely from politics. It has openly announced that politicians, whatever their hue, will not be allowed inside the seminary. Coming from Deoband, this declaration is significant. Deoband is an educational institution devoted to traditional Islamic learning. This makes it open to the suspicion that it is inclined towards Islamic fundamentalism. Some aspects of Deoband’s history lend ground to such suspicions. But this recent statement from the seminary divorcing itself from the world of current politics reveals that whatever its orientation in the world of knowledge, it is not open to the braiding of learning with politics and the latter with religion. It wants to remain focused on its own quest for knowledge and learning. In the highly charged and polarized atmosphere of Indian politics, the seminary in Deoband may have set, in a quiet way, an example.
In India, educational institutions have all too often been made the sites for politics. This is not confined to the level of students’ unions but often political parties enter educational institutions for purposes of propaganda and agitation. More often than not such intrusions vitiate the atmosphere and divide the students. Educational institutions should be devoted to the pursuit of learning: they are not intended to be nurseries for politicians. There are very few people who are willing to accept this premise and this unwillingness could very well be one of the reasons behind the sad state of educational institutions and of the system of education. Political parties have assumed it to be their right to intervene in and operate within educational institutions. The seminary in Deoband, for obvious reasons of self-protection, has barred politicians from entering its premises till the elections are over. It should perhaps, for reasons of enlightened self-interest, take the more radical step and make permanent what is now a temporary measure. It is difficult to see other institutions of secular learning take such steps against politicians. But they would do well to emulate Deoband in this regard.