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Government recognition a silver lining for Bengal’s madrassas?

By Anurag Dey, IANS,

Kolkata : The announcement of recognition to a large number of madrassas by the West Bengal government has brought a glimmer of hope to thousands of Muslim students, including a growing number of girls, who were deprived of proper educational opportunities and teachers.

There are however many who feel the move may not work, especially when it comes without any assurance of state funds.

“While 25 percent of Bengal’s population (23 million approximately) is Muslim, the number of recognised madrassas in the entire state is just 611, of which only 17 schools are purely Urdu-medium while the rest are mixed medium,” state Madrassa Board president Giyasuddin Siddiqui said.

Kolkata has just eight madrassas, only four of them having Urdu as the medium of instruction.

The announcement by the Mamata Banerjee government of giving recognition to 10,000 madrassas is surely a right step forward, says Siddiqui.

“The process for identifying the schools has started and by the end of this year, a substantial number of them will be given recognition. The conditions for recognition are that the schools should have a building of their own and sufficient teachers. They must follow the syllabus prescribed by us which is at par with other boards in the state,” Siddiqui added.

However, there are many who are sceptical it will make a difference.

“Many of the existing madrassas don’t have proper buildings, or sufficient number of teachers. Moreover, a large number of the schools have teachers who are not adequately qualified to teach in the medium. Blindly giving recognition without proper infrastructure will only compound the problem and not solve it,” Urdu Academy member Shahnaz Nabi told IANS.

Another problem peculiar to government-run madrassas is the vacant posts of teachers under the reserved category.

“As the Muslim community has no SC/ST category, the posts reserved for them are lying vacant. The government must come out with a solution to this very strange problem. I find it hard to understand the need for such a move when there exists no such category in the community,” Aliah University professor Salman Khurshid said.

As the recognised madrassas were initially under the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, the reserved seats were created. But now, they are under the Madrassa Board and the government is mulling to do away with the reserved posts and filling up the vacancies, said Siddiqui.

Some also feel the move to recognise the madrassas may not be smooth sailing.

“The ‘kharezi’ (unrecognised) madrassas are run through charity and have their own set of rules and regulations. If they get government affiliation, they will have to follow the government rules and the syllabus of the state Madrassa Board, which they might not be willing to accept.

“Moreover, the move to give recognition has not been backed by a separate fund. So there are chances that many of the Kharezis will not apply for the same,” said Alamgir Jaan, a retired madrassa teacher.

Banerjee, while making the announcement for recognition, had said that once recognised, the madrassas will get money from the central government but did not say anything on financial assistance from the state.

In spite of the government running advertisements in Hindi and Urdu newspapers published from Kolkata in June and July (2011), not many schools have applied for recognition.

“Up till March this year, about 60 madrassas have applied, of which a few had to be rejected because of some anomalies in their applications. Without assurance of funds from the state, the madrassas are hardly willing to apply,” a Madrasah Board official said.

Some madrassas have complaints regarding the syllabus.

“Computer literacy and knowledge of English have become a prerequisite to be successful, but the Madrassa syllabi are far from competitive. Suitable changes must be incorporated so that the students are able to prepare themselves suitably,” Nasreen Khan, a journalist, told IANS..

On the rosier side though, female students in the madrassas not only outnumber males, more girls than boys are passing the Class 10 exam. During 2010-11, of the 50,000 students who appeared for the Class 10 exams, 75.62 percent passed the exam, of whom 63 percent were females.

This year, of the 50,000-plus students who appeared for the exam, almost 66 percent are girls.

“The figures are a revelation and contrary to the popular belief that females from the community are not allowed to join schools,” Siddiqui said.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at [email protected])