The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Non-Muslim boom in madarsas
- 15 per cent growth last year

Calcutta, July 25: In a “unique” trend, madarsas in Bengal are witnessing a jump in admission by non-Muslim students.

“There has been a 15 per cent rise in the number of non-Muslim students in madarsas in the state over the last year,” said Abdus Sattar, president of the West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education.

“This is a unique feature, in India or abroad. In no other state such a trend prevails,” Sattar added.

Officials attribute it to mainly two factors: regular schools running out of seats and the recognition of madarsas by the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary education.

There are also other forces at play, particularly the fact that many regular schools seek donation which forces poor students to consider madarsas.

Mongali Rani Das, the daughter of a poor mason in an obscure village in Contai, had approached the local school for admission. “The school authorities demanded a donation of Rs 550 from us. We were unable to provide the money and so I was refused admission,” she said.

Mongali then turned to Contai Rehamania High Madarsa and was readily given admission.

Headmaster Subarna Baran Panda said there are 900 students in his madarsa, of whom around 200 are non-Muslims. “The number was much lower a couple of years back. It was well below 100,” he said.

Panda himself reflects the changed attitude towards madarsas. “I get much more respect here,” said the headmaster, who came to the madarsa after teaching in a regular school for years.

At Akra High Madarsa (Higher Secondary) in South 24-Parganas, there are two Hindus — Meenakshi Naskar in Class XII and Raju Jha in Class V — among the 778 students. Authorities said there was not a single Hindu student a couple of years ago.

“I was apprehensive when I first took admission here. But things are as normal as in any other school,”said Naskar, who did not find a place in her local school as the seats were filled up.

She can read and write Arabic as well as any Muslim student, she claimed proudly.

For Jha, however, things were not smooth in the initial days. Teachers said the boy had faced some harassment, “but things were dealt with strictly”.

Tapas Layak, an English teacher at the madarsa, feels the increase in population is fuelling a demand for schools. “There is shortage of seats in schools. Also, the relatively low fee is attracting students to madarsas.”

Another difficulty for non-Muslim students — Arabic language — has been eased. Of the 100-mark paper in Advanced Arabic, they can answer questions for 65 marks in Bengali.

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