148,000 students study in madrasas in Maharashtra (file photo: Getty)
The Maharashtra government has sparked a controversy by declaring that madrasas, or Islamic seminaries, that do not teach primary subjects such as English and mathematics would be considered "non-schools" and their students "out-of-school" children. Muslim leaders and opposition parties have criticised the move as discriminatory and unconstitutional.
State minority affairs minister Eknath Khadse said the BJP-led government took the step because madrasas do not provide children their constitutional right to formal education.
“Madrasas are giving students education on religion, not formal education,” Khadse said. “We have asked them to teach students other subjects as well. Otherwise, the madrasas will be considered as non-schools.”
About 148,000 students study in 1,889 madrasas in Maharashtra, according to data provided by the state directorate of minorities, and the education department is conducting a survey to identify schools that do not follow the formal curriculum.
Each madrasa gets an annual subsidy, with the Union government allocating Rs 100 crore ($15.8 million) last year for their modernisation. But the state government warned that grants would stop if madrasas failed to make English, mathematics, science and social sciences part of their curriculum.
“This is a continuous targeting of Muslims by the Maharashtra BJP government,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim leader and member of parliament for Hyderabad.
He questioned the rationale behind the decision and asked if students getting Vedic education would also be considered “out-of-school” children.
“There are many madrasas that are teaching maths, English and science. Many madrasa students have gone ahead and cracked civil services exams,” he said.
According to the Financial Times, Owaisi accused the authorities of “hypocrisy” for refusing to support reserved places for underprivileged Muslims in formal education while attacking madrasas that catered to only 2 per cent of the Muslim community.
The government clarified that the aim was to ensure every child from the minority community got a chance to learn, get good-paying jobs and have a prosperous future.
“We are ready to pay madrasas for giving students formal education and are ready to provide them teaching staff as well,” Khadse said.
The opposition Congress party said the government’s decision was unconstitutional.
“No child should be discriminated along religious lines. We are going to take the issue in the state assembly,” said Congress spokesperson Sanjay Nirupam.
The decision on madrasas comes two months after the Maharashtra government banned the sale and consumption of beef across the state, a step seen by many as taken to appease Hindu nationalist groups.