The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dollars for madarsas

Calcutta, March 10: The United States government is financing the improvement of teaching in Bengal’s unrecognised madarsas.

These khareji (not recognised by the state or the Centre) madarsas have become the unlikely meeting ground for the US and a community that has had an uneasy relationship with it since 9/11 which was followed by the military operation in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

One of the largest non-governmental organisations working for the minority community, the Amanat Foundation has been picked to execute the $15,000 (around Rs 6.75 lakh) programme.

Neither the American Center nor Amanat would link the project to anything other than its ostensible purpose. “The US has always wanted to help in programmes that strengthen the civil society fabric and this is just one more example,” an American Center official said.

“Thousands of poor Muslims, who cannot afford to send their children to proper schools, are forced to depend on these khareji madarsas,” Amanat Foundation secretary Shah Alam said, explaining that the sole aim of the project was to ensure that students got better teachers.

The programme is concentrating on areas in North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur, all districts with big Muslim populations and a large number of khareji madarsas. It will involve 11 camps and train 550 teachers.

A conscious decision has been taken to keep only “secular” subjects — like English, Bengali, mathematics, science and computers — within the purview of the programme.

“It will help teachers know more about the advances of modernity and, in turn, help our community’s children,” a programme official said.

The initiative has, generally, found support from the community. But there is a section that feels the project should come clean about its sponsor.

“We are verbally telling the participants about the country sponsoring the project,” an Amanat official said.

“Too much publicity about the donor may lead to a focus on irrelevant issues and detract from the real aim of the programme,” he added.

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