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India's Education Law Should Apply to Students at Islamic Madrasas, Child Rights Watchdog Says

© AP Photo / CHANNI ANANDMuslim students from remote hilly areas of Jammu study inside a madrasa, or religious school, on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Saturday, July 1, 2006
Muslim students from remote hilly areas of Jammu study inside a madrasa, or religious school, on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Saturday, July 1, 2006 - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.08.2021
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In December 2020, BJP-ruled Assam became the first state in India to withdraw state-funding for madrasas, schools which impart an Islamic education. According to the Indian government, more than 197 million Indian students attend one of India's madrasas.
India’s federal child rights watchdog, the National Commission for the Protection of Children's Rights (NCPCR), has called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to expand the coverage of the Right to Education Act (RTE), 2009, by making it applicable to madrasas.
These academies are Islamic schools which impart education based on the Quran.
“It is important that the federal and state education departments play a proactive role in extending the right to education to all children. So far, the minority cell (of the federal education department) has not taken any constructive step for the education of children of minority communities,” the NCPCR said in its report.
The RTE guarantees free and compulsory education to Indians aged between 6 and 14 years. In 2012, the RTE Act was amended to exempt institutions imparting religious education.
The validity of these exemptions was upheld in 2014 by India’s Supreme Court, which at the time stated that the RTE should not “interfere” with the rights of minorities to establish and administer institutions of their choice.
However, NCPCR’s chairman Priyank Kanoongo argues that the exemption is “creating a conflicting picture between the fundamental rights of children and the rights of minority communities”.
“It was observed that many children who are enrolled in these institutions and/or schools were not able to enjoy the entitlements that other children are enjoying because the institution they are studying in is exempted and is enjoying the rights of minority institutions,” Kanoongo said.
These “entitlements” include benefits such as a mid-day meal, free textbooks, uniforms, teaching/learning material, access to a library, play material, computers, smart classes, and other facilities.
Besides demanding that madrasas be brought under the RTE Act, the NCPCR has also demanded that the unrecognised schools be mapped and the number of minority institutions in each Indian state be regulated, among other recommendations.
"Comparing a religious community's population in a state with how many minority status schools there are for that particular community indicates whether the minority status schools are in proportion to the religious minority population,” the report says.
“For instance, in West Bengal, 92.47 percent of the minority population is Muslim and 2.47 percent is Christian. However, there are 114 Christian minority schools and only two with Muslim minority status. Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, though the Christian population is less than 1 percent, there are 197 Christian minority schools in the state,” claims the report.
“This disproportionate amount takes away the core objective of establishing minority educational institutions,” the NCPCR argues.
Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal states have the largest Muslim populations in India. Overall,  Muslims constitute nearly 20 percent of India’s population, according to the 2011 federal census.
The recommendations have raised hackles among India’s Muslim groups which say that the government has no authority to interfere in how their madrasas function.
Niaz Farooqui, the secretary of India’s largest Islamic scholars’ organisation Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JuH), told Sputnik that the Indian Muslims have been “guaranteed” the right to run their own educational institutions under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution.
“The government has no power to decide the fate of madrasas that are not funded by the state. Let [the government] introduce whichever curriculum it desires in state-funded madrasas,” the Muslim community leader said.
Farooqui further noted that there was a fundamental difference between madrasas and regular schools. “Madrasas impart religious education,” he spelt out.
The NCPCR says that only four percent of Indian madrasas are recognised and receive funding from the government. The other madrasas have been declared “ineligible” for state funding because of inadequate facilities.
The bulk of Indian madrasas fall in the “unmapped” category, which means that the government officially doesn’t know of their existence.
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