The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Madarsa review put off amid protest heat

Calcutta, June 15: The National Commission for Minorities has been forced to “indefinitely postpone” its controversial meet to “look into the madarsas and their problems”.

The proposed convention had been opposed by the madarsa board in the state and several others on the ground that the statutory panel had no right to go through the syllabi of the minority educational institutions.

Member of the national commission Rashid Ahmed Shervani told The Telegraph: “Opposition from various states, including yours” caused the cancellation of the meet scheduled for last week. “You could say that the West Bengal Minorities’ Commission has had its day,” he said over phone from Delhi, referring to the state’s opposition to the meet.

But the convention would take place, Shervani added. In a statement that could add to the bitterness following “doubts” about the commission’s objective in convening the meet, he said “some states, like Bengal, followed syllabi that could not be described as anything other than being second-grade”. “We will have to sit down some time or the other to do this (review the syllabi) very important task.”

A thorough overhaul of the syllabi had to be done to help Muslims, who formed the largest chunk of students in madarsas, Shervani added.

The national commission had convened the meeting of all state madarsa board chiefs in Delhi and, in faxed messages to all of them, chairperson Tarlochan Singh asked them to bring along the syllabi being followed in the madarsas.

But the meet — to look into the “problems faced by the madarsas” — did not please many. Voices from several quarters pointed out that it came “too close” to VHP leader Praveen Togadia’s call to probe madarsas for being the “training ground for jihadis”. They alleged that the commission, recently reconstituted by the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, was working according to the agenda set by hardline Hindus.

The state minorities’ commission and the West Bengal Madarsa Board were among the first to voice misgivings. Chairman of the state commission K.M. Yusuf challenged the national body’s authority to convene the meet. Only the Union human resources development ministry was empowered to look into a subject within the jurisdiction of the state education department, they said. The state madarsa board, too, refused to send a delegation, saying the syllabus followed here was “modern and secular” and nothing of benefit could come out of the meet.

Confronted with similar reactions from several other states, the national body backed off. “The meeting of a few states would not have helped us in any way,” Shervani said. “The topic on our agenda was very serious and had to be discussed in a sober and quiet manner.”

“The system of education followed in madarsas in Bengal is second-grade,” Shervani insisted, more than once. “There have to be more changes if we are to help Muslims,” he added.

The member of the national commission, however, admitted that the allegation of madarsas being the “training ground for jihadis” was “unfair”. “There are 40,000 madarsas across the country... Is it possible to give a guarantee that 40 do not have anti-national elements'” he asked, adding that the same could be said of every other educational institution in India.

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