India’s Uttar Pradesh state govt is targeting minority Muslim schools with its sights set on the 2024 general election
Students hold up placards and shout slogans during a demonstration outside the Uttar Pradesh Bhawan in New Delhi on June 13, 2022, to protest against the state government for demolishing the house of a local Muslim leader in Allahabad. (Photo: AFP)
The government of India’s Uttar Pradesh state, in tune with its hardcore Hindutva image, embarked on a survey of unrecognized madrasas (Islamic schools), which has stoked fears among Muslim groups which have reacted sharply, questioning the real intent of the state government.
What worries Muslims in the northern state, even more, is the fact that just last month in Assam, another BJP-ruled state, authorities bulldozed three madrasas after police stepped up operations against a banned Bangladesh-based terror outfit said to have links with Al-Qaeda in the subcontinent.
Utter Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, is even more bulldozer-friendly. In fact, the Hindu ascetic-turned politician is not only synonymous with a bulldozer — he loves to call himself “Bulldozer Baba” — flaunting his image as a strong no-nonsense administrator.
So, the fear of bulldozers looms large over unrecognized madrasas in Uttar Pradesh. Once a 25-day survey is over on Oct 5, Yogi’s bulldozer might roll again to flatten these unrecognized madrasas.
“Now this fear is not unfounded at all, given the chief minister’s reputation and fascination with bulldozers,” Shehnawaz Alam, chairman of the Uttar Pradesh minority committee of the Congress party, told UCA News.
The official reason cited for carrying out the survey by minority welfare officers across the 78 districts of the state along with officials from the education department is to gather details of teachers, students, curricula, basic facilities available and affiliation of unrecognized madrasas with NGOs.
"The government is unnecessarily trying to interfere in private madrasas which are run on donations from the Muslim community"
The aim, says the government, is to streamline education and mainstream the Islamic seminaries. Uttar Pradesh has more than 16,000 madrasas, among which only 500 get government grants. The rest are run on donations, which the state government now wants to scrutinize. It wants to examine the source of funding, among other things.
As expected, the move has not gone down well with Muslim organizations and political parties who have reacted strongly, calling the ongoing survey a “malicious move” and “uncalled for harassment” which amounts to an “evil intent to terrorize” the Muslim community.
However, there are a few Muslims like Ahmedabad-based sufi, Anwar Hussein, who have welcomed the controversial move, justifying the need for such a survey of unrecognized madrasas to find out the exact source of funding which, he maintains, is very important for national security. There is also a need to rein in the “madrasa mafia” and bring them under state rules and regulations.
However, the problem, as Mohmed Khalid — a Muslim leader in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut city — pointed out is that many unrecognized madrasas which run on donations cannot really provide details because usually they get anonymous donations. So, the amount cannot be accounted for.
Besides, madrasas may not have deeds for land donated for the purpose of setting up a seminary. So, there is bound to be some problem, some pain and issues.
This is why the community feels that in the name of the survey, the government is unnecessarily trying to interfere in private madrasas which are run on donations from the Muslim community. The government has no business in interfering, they say, it should rather focus on improving the conditions of government-aided madrasas.
"The real reason for the madrasa issue being raked up is the 2024 general election"
Echoing the sentiment of the All-Indian Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which has the largest network of madrasas in the country, Hamid Bhatti, a young Muslim leader asks: why is it that only madrasas are being targeted and singled out for such exercise? Why aren’t similar surveys being conducted for educational institutions of other religions?
When the government is making schools private, why is it asking questions of madrasas? After all, madrasas play an important role in imparting education to the poor in areas where the government has failed to provide primary education.
Of course, madrasas need to be upgraded and modernized but not in the way the Uttar Pradesh government proposes to do so, by casting aspersions on the unrecognized madrasas — as if they are dens of “jihadi elements” — as Yogi’s Assam counterpart, Himanta Biswa Sarma, claimed before his bulldozer brought down three madrasas in the northeastern state bordering Bangladesh.
This time around in Uttar Pradesh, the real reason for the madrasa issue being raked up is the 2024 general election. The idea is to consolidate its core Hindu vote bank and floating supporters, who are moving away due to increasing inflation and other hardships.
So, hard-line supporters need to be placated. For that, sooner than expected, you may see Yogi’s bulldozer in action, pulling down some of the unrecognized madrasas. Hence the shrill anti-Muslim noise — the BJP’s sure-shot election-winning recipe, said Uttar Pradesh minority leader, Alam.
Since most of the madrasas are looked after by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind it has launched a helpline to assist Islamic schools in Uttar Pradesh, and the Congress Minority Morcha, too, is carrying out a week-long state-wide program expressing solidarity with madrasas to protect them at all costs.
"There is more fear and genuine apprehension about this contentious survey and its likely political fallout"
This is not the first time that the Uttar Pradesh government has shown its “retrograde mindset” regarding madrasas, upsetting Islamic seminaries.
In 2017, the Yogi government asked madrasas to record the Independence Day celebrations along with the singing of the national anthem and submit the recordings to district magistrates. This upset madrasas, who read it as an attempt to question their patriotism.
For minorities of Uttar Pradesh, it's again a 2017 moment as Yogi is at it again. But this time, there is more fear and genuine apprehension about this contentious survey and its likely political fallout. More specifically, the likely display of Yogi’s bulldozer obsession.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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