Educational Uplift of Indian Muslims : A National Priority

By mr. manzoor ahmad


India is a multi-cultural multi-religious polyglot society where the religious minorities constitute 20% of the population.  In absolute terms they are almost equal to the entire population of the USA.  Among the minorities, the Muslim minority constituting 15% of the entire population of the country and spread all over the country is educationally the worst off.  Any democratic society where such a large number of people are steeped in illiteracy, poverty and backwardness is doomed to disaster.  Such a large percentage of backward people will be a milestone round the neck of the nation and their backwardness will impede progress of all.


This fact of educational and economic backwardness of the Muslims has been conclusively established in several reports and surveys.  The Gopal Singh Report, the Reports of 43rd Round and the 55th Round of the National Sample Survey and the Programme for Action under the New Education Policy of 1986 clearly show that the Muslim minority is educationally most backward segment of the nation.


Backwardness is circular in nature.  If a community is educationally backward, it also becomes economically backward and the economic backwardness leads to social backwardness which in turn reinforces educational backwardness.  And so this circular motion goes on throwing the community in pitiless poverty.  In the world today, educational progress aims at establishment of a knowledge society which creates what may be called knowledge economy where the human ‘brain’ is the capital Muslim backwardness in education keeps them away from knowledge economy and further pushes them in the abyss of poverty.


The first National policy on education was presented by the Kothari commission in 1966.  After twenty years, late Rajiv Gandhi promulgated the National Policy on education in 1986, which contained one full chapter on educating the minorities. During the last eighteen years, the country and the world have witnessed revolutionary change both in content and methodology of education, and these call for a new National Policy on Education.  The educational requirements in general, the status with regards to the minorities and judicial pronouncements on these rights have hanged the position considerably.  Further, India is a signatory to GATS which will be effective from 2005.  It will be giving foreign educational organisations access in the country and create a new environment in our educational system and will call for several measures for readjustment.  The new Commission on national education policy should also have a panel on minority education also to suggest measures for educational uplift of the backward segments of national minorities.  The founding fathers of the Republic were mindful of the particular problems of the different segments of our society and included Article 30 of the Constitution to help the Muslim minority to catch up with the national standards.  Unfortunately what was given by the Constitution was in practice, taken away by a biased and unsympathetic bureaucracy and later day politicians.  The six-year-period of Sangh Combine rule was marked by discriminatory treatment in which education was also made a vehicle of their political ambitions.  Condemning the Madrasas and not allowing opening of institutions of contemporary learning was leading the Muslim to become “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”


The assumption of office by the UPA at Centre is a turning point in recent history.  It is an opportune time to examine the success and failures of the past and take new measures with a sense of realism to bring the fruits of development to all sections of the populace.  It will be in the fitness of things if the UPA government constitutes a new Commission to prepare the National Policy keeping in view the monumental changes that are taking place.  This commission should also address the important issue of the growing backwardness of the major minority community i.e., the Muslims in this field and suggest new ways and means to correct this state of affairs.  These new measures should aim at empowerment through education of the most marginalised sections of the minorities.  We should also keep in view the new trend of globalisation and our new emerging role in South Asia and the world.  The predominant sections of people in our neighbouring country Muslims and Buddhist.  Creation of facilities for quality education in the minority educational institutions will realise our good of leadership in South Asia in this fielding to the educational needs of the neighbouring countries and also earn precious foreign exchange.  Several countries in the world are earning a sizeable portion of their GDP from students from abroad in higher education.  We have everything to make India the hub of education in the developing world – our trained manpower, our excellent educational / professional institutions, our mastery of English and a very hospitable people where foreign students will feel at home.  The impoverished Muslim countries which lag behind in modern education and technologies will find it affordable to come to Muslim institutions for higher and professional learning and it will also create a lot of good will in these countries. Muslim educational institutions can forge a lasting bond between the elite of these countries and India. We could also get a fair number of students from the West for India-Study.  For this purpose, we may establish more and new seats of learning.  This will require a concerted action by the ministeries of HRD, Home Afairs and External Affairs with one window facility for the foreign students. 


Within the next five years, 20% of our population will become college going, which will require doubling the number of universities and colleges.  The U.S.with one fourth of our population has four times our number of universities.  We find clear resistance on the part of the bureucracy to start new educational institutions more so then it is a minority institutions.  While concern for quality is understandable those who cry hoarse over rising number of  professional institutions and universities are behaving as Rip Von Winkle.


The Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the UPA lays down that the Government will amend the Constitution to establish a Commission for Minority Educational Institutions which will provide direct affiliation to the Central Universities for the minority institutions.  Once this Commission is established, the problem of affiliation faced by minority professional/technical institutions shall be greatly reduced.  Sri Arjun Singh, Minister for HRD, also declared recently that the minority professional / technical institutions shall soon be able to affiliate with a Central University.  Once this promise is implemented, there will be surge of such institutions. However, we have to ensure that these institutions are in no way below the national standards set by the public bodies like the AICTE.  Jamia Millia Islamia, with its history, tradition and location is fit for this job.


The CMP also promises to establish a National Commission to see how best the welfare of the economically and socially backward section among the linguistic and religious minorities, including reservation in education and employment are enhanced.  This commission will submit its report within six months.


Most of the promises made in the CMP, after the President’s address to the Joint session of the Parliament are no longer only CMP, and have become programmes of the Government and have the sovereign backing of the nation.


The Central Advisory Board on Education had been non-functioning for the last about six years.  It has now been constituted, but there is a general feeling that the newly constituted body has very few serious educationists, and has been packed with people, who have nothing to do with education, especially minority education.  Some people who have worked in the field of minority education should also get a place on it.


It is our experience in the past that the minority institutions face difficulties and discrimination in the matter of affiliation.  A new body on the pattern of the CBSE should be created.  It will help in prompt affiliation of minority managed higher secondary schools and maintain their standards.  The government should establish a large number of higher-secondary schools in minority populated areas.  Some institutions, which are not being run properly for want of funds and facilities maybe taken over by the Government with the consent of the management, if necessary, for a limited period.  This will save immediate expenditure on buildings etc. and the plan can be implemented without delay.


The Madrasas should play a vital role in Jan Siksha Abhiyan.  In fact, they have enhanced literacy figures among the Muslims considerably.  There are above thirty thousand Madrasas in the country – the largest non-governmental effort by an impoverished community in the field of education in history.  Most of these Madrasas which cater to poor and destitute children also provide, besides meals, books and clothing, and expenditure on home travel.  Since a large number of these Madrasas go only upto middle and secondary level, there is a strong case of roping them in Jan Siksha Abhiyan and with the introduction of few more subjects, establish their equivalence with the institutions of mainstream education.  The states of Bihar, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh has Madarsa Boards, which has registered a number of Madrasas.  These Boards should register the remaining Madrasas and other states should follow their example.  In view of the service being rendered by these Madrasas in educating the most uneducated community, it is imperative that these should get public financial support.  The management of the Madrasas should be encouraged and guided by these Boards to examine a fresh their curricula and syllabi and introduce new subjects of contemporary nature, social and natural sciences to raise a generation of well-informed citizens.


There are a few hundred Madrasas where the standards are quite high and which teach upto Alim and Fazil stage.  Some Universities notably.  Aligarh, Agra, Jamia Milla, Jamia Hamdard and Lucknow have established equivalence of the Madrasa degrees with their own after the Madrasa students pass examination in one subject of the University.  This provides for lateral entry of the Madrasa students in the mainstream education.  This will be good for these students and good for the country.


There is no arrangement for Teachers’ training for Madrasa faculty.  A detailed programme should be implemented and funded by the government in this regard.  This will not only improve the quality and content of the Madrasa syllabi, but will also remove many misgivings in the mind of some people.  These trained teachers will raise the standard of instructions and will also help improve the chances of the lateral entry of these students at appropriate levels, in the mainstream education.


The process of getting educational loans for students in general and Muslim students in particular is very cumbersome.  It will be an eye-opener to find out what percentage of such loans have gone to Muslim students.  One reason is the fact that Muslim are not able to provide collateral security to the banks for such loans.  The banks appear to be reluctant to provide loans to Muslim students without an iron clad security in spite of the Govt. orders to the country.  The result is that even those Muslim students who qualify for admission to professional courses are not able to get loan from the banks and are forced to drop out.  As a matter of state policy, the students who get admission to professional courses should get interest-free bank loans on the sovereign guarantee of the state and economic status of the parents should not matter in these cases.  This will not cost much but will remove a great impediment in the way of poor Muslim students.

The author is a retired Indian Police Service officer and retired former Vice-Chancellor of Agra University. Currently he is a visiting Professor of Political Science in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.