Dalits look upon English as the language of emancipation

First published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/ItCo2HSpKjf98VvW8X4yAO/Dalits-look-upon-English-as-the-language-of-emancipation.html

In a Paharganj lane, Sangh coaches IAS aspirants, a third of this year’s batch trained there

First published here: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/in-a-paharganj-lane-sangh-coaches-ias-aspirants-a-third-of-this-year-s-batch-trained-there/311504/0

Wife, 3 kids hadn’t seen him for a year until police showed him on TV as HuJI arrest

First published here: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/wife-3-kids-hadn-t-seen-him-for-a-year-until-police-showed-him-on-tv-as-huji-arrest/314187/0

Disquiet in Bharatpur over three ‘Jaipur’ arrests: cleric, teacher and a 15-year-old boy

First published in Indian Express: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/disquiet-in-bharatpur-over-three–jaipur–arrests-cleric-teacher-and-a-15yearold-boy/315505/0

The business of caste in India

Priyanka P. Narain and Pallavi SIngh

Mumbai/New Delhi: Images of adventure reside in their collective memory—journeys into the cobbled streets of Antwerp to compete with powerful Hasidic Jew merchants for grubby stones, which, when polished and cut, would sparkle and dazzle. The journey that transformed the Palanpuri Jains from cloth and perfume traders into moguls of the diamond empire was challenging: The language of Antwerp was strange to their ears and its exotic meats forbidden to their vegetarian palates. But during those days of mercantile entrepreneurship, this community coped with challenges together and forged ties of kinship that “have survived till today and have provided the basis on which we have built this industry in India,” says Rajiv Mehta, chief executive officer of Dimexon Diamonds Ltd.

But to the Bunts of Karnataka—former warriors and landowners who created the famous Udipi restaurant chains, established restaurants, hotels and resorts—globalization has not been so kind. Raghu Shetty, who set up the first catering business in Mumbai in the late 1970s, says the community is unable to keep up with new Indian tastes. “The culture of five-star weddings, glamorous family and business events…and our job is not very rewarding. The children don’t want to run restaurants at street corners…you see all our old Udipis shutting down. No one needs them any more.”

These stories reflect the fact that there is no clear answer to the question: How have community businesses adapted to India’s growth in a globalized world? There is little data to go by and anecdotal evidence meanders in all directions.

Business legacy: Diamond merchant Pankaj Shah (wearing a garland) leaving for his first trip to Antwerp in 1972. He had relatives in Antwerp who ran brokerage firms through which he could buy the rough diamonds he would select. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Claiming that economic cooperation was the basis of defining caste, Roy says that “these (caste-based) groups are protecting access of outsiders to assets—be it skills, people, capital…sometimes successfully, sometimes not. They are guilds, rooted in blood, rather than rules. The ties run so deep that if anyone breaks a business rule, they can be excommunicated from the community.”

And because of the efficiency of this economic model, many communities have drawn inspiration from this idea over the ages, “and that is unlikely to change. I see no reason why world markets would not help caste-based community business to expand their business and strengthen their ties. Of course, some communities will prosper, others may not. For instance, the Marwaris—who had prospered in the last century as the manufacturing community—did not do so well after. But I believe the idea will endure,” said Roy.

Also Read previous stories in the series

Diamonds are forever

Among the Palanpuris, diamonds have created a mutual dependence that has not only endured but also thrived in a globalized world.

“Thirty years ago, when I was growing up, we were trained to think that one day, we will also play with these shiny stones,” says Mehta, splaying imaginary diamonds on the table as he speaks. “You cannot underestimate how much power that knowledge gives—you become a risk taker, you are willing to put yourself out on a limb if it will expand the business for your sons who are there with you. That kind of quick, risky, urgent decision making can never happen in a corporate setup,” explains Mehta.

Over the last 50 years, they have trained their sons in the art of identifying diamonds among stones in the diamond bazaars of Antwerp. Pankaj Shah, a diamond merchant, remembers his Antwerp trip of 1972—the time he began to choose rough diamonds that held most promise of dazzling when polished.

“I was 20. My family thought it was time for me to learn. At that time, relatives used to live in Antwerp and run brokerage firms. We could select diamonds ourselves, but we could buy diamonds only through a brokerage firm. So we stayed in homes of relatives. Since we were Jains—there were no vegetarian restaurants in Antwerp at that time—we ate in their homes. We simply selected the rough diamonds we wanted to buy and the brokerage firm would complete the formalities and export them to us.” Those with no family lived in cheap, hovel-like hotels, ate at common Jain kitchens and practised their trade.

In an open world economy, Palanpuris have taken their business to far-flung countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas and while “it’s hard to give exact figures in this industry, the Palanpuris have retained 60-70% of the market…as long as the world needs diamonds and succession remains intact, I think we will stay in the game,” says Mehta.

New opportunities

For the Oriyas, the last two decades have meant opportunity—to get a job, to live in a city, to educate their children, to give them a better life. Opportunities that they grabbed together, helping each other along the way, each man pulling a few kinsmen out of a bleak hole.

Like Niranjan Parida did.

On a January morning of 1993, a?teenaged Parida boarded a Delhi-bound train with a thousand rupees, without informing his family. He says he ran away from his home to escape the purposelessness that had seeped into his village, Ratnapur in Kendrapada district in Orissa, where the only opportunity available was for daily wages. “That is not (what) I wanted to do,” says Parida.

His impulsive journey to the national Capital is not a lone migrant story, but a chain of migrations of scheduled caste Oriyas who have escaped the bleakness of Orissa’s villages, curiously enough, for plumbing jobs.

When Parida arrived, he knew no one and spoke little Hindi. He pounded the streets for a job, slept on footpaths—till he happened to meet a woman from his village. “Her husband was a contractor for plumbing jobs in Delhi. She took me home and he trained me in plumbing,” he says.

Within months, he began to land contracts. Seventeen years later, thin and blackened from working in the unforgiving Delhi sun, he makes Rs10,000-12,000 per month. He also does what he insists people of his community have traditionally done—bring people from the village for plumbing jobs. “I brought almost a dozen people from my village here. I train them and get them employed,” he says.

But plumbing is not the only job that the community does. Chandrakant Sahu, who speaks better Hindi than Parida, explains how the community also helps Oriya kinsmen become electricians. When Sahu migrated to Delhi from Orissa’s Betali village, a relative got him a job at an electrical shop. Now, “Parida suggests my name for electrical fittings in the house where he is working. His good at his work, his recommendation matters,” he says, referring to a system where they try to secure contracts for kinsmen. “We have a human network (that) helps each other since we are emotional about our roots,” he says.

Changing with the times

And yet, for the Bunts—who created the chain of Udipi restaurants, took over the Irani tea houses, bought hotels, established catering businesses, highway eateries and dhabas in the city to escape the bleak poverty of their villages—the changing world has not heralded similar good news, but nor has it broken the spirit of collaboration among kinsmen.

For many reasons, the Shettys are finding it hard to stay afloat. Jairam Shetty explains, “First, so many other communities—Gujaratis, Marwaris and Punjabis—have come in and taken away our market. We could not cater to all those tastes nor compete with the money they brought in. Secondly, in the last few years, international hotels have come to India. They serve international cuisines and tastes have changed. Also, marriages have become very fancy. Finally, succession is a problem since business isn’t glamorous and the children do not want to take over. We are just waiting until they are settled.”

For those who built the business from the ground up, the change is bitter-sweet. “We are happy that our children have more opportunity than we did. That is what we wanted when we came to Mumbai. Our community is still very strongly interconnected, only now we are focusing on education and social issues. This business has brought us so far—now it might be time to slowly move to better things as a community together, supporting each other,” says Raghu Shetty, owner of Santosh Catering, and the uncrowned grandfather of the Bunts in Mumbai.

Like many others, Shetty was a teenager when he left his ancestral village near Mangalore for a better life in Mumbai. For 20 long years, he worked in a little restaurant in Worli— washing dishes, cleaning tables, then waiting at them and gradually, becoming a manager. “All the while, I watched the chef. I learnt cooking, everything about it, and when the time came, I started my own catering business in the city,” he says. Jairam Shetty, owner of Ajanta Caterers in Mumbai, says: “This business is not very capital-intensive. We just needed a supportive human network, and that we had.”

That collaboration still exists, says 67-year-old Raghu Shetty. “We want families of the community to do better with every generation. If the catering work will not take us further, then it is time for us to leave it behind and find another opportunity that will give our children a better life,” he smiles. “As long as the community supports each other and stands as one, it will all be okay…”

This is the second of a five-part series on the changing role of caste in a globalized India.

This story was first published in Mint: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/fyUT0NGkceCnI4yHxWiwxM/The-business-of-caste-in-India.html

Rise of India’s caste warrior

Pallavi Singh
Duhai, Ghaziabad: Caste is most often seen through the prism of conflict—the heated national debates about reservations, the political polarization on the census and the attacks on young couples that have been blessed by caste panchayats.

But far away from the spotlight, there is the more benign world of organizations and activists who continue to nurture informal networks based on caste, to help fledgeling businesses, build educational institutions and promote philanthropy.

Consider the case of Avneesh Dahiya.

Dahiya owes his three-year journey from Bhojpur, a small village about 187km from New Delhi, to the National Capital Region (NCR), to the commitment of one man to use personal success to help other members of his caste.

Help at hand: Choudhary Chhotu Ram Girls’ Inter College manager Sunil Chowdhry. Pradeep Gaur / Mint

Malik, also national president of All India Jat Arakshan Samiti (AIJAS), a caste-based outfit demanding recognition of Jats as Other Backward Castes (OBC) at the national level, met Dahiya in 2007.

“What do you do?” he asked Dahiya, who had already spent more than three decades in the village, landless and jobless. With Jats rallying to demand reservations for their community, AIJAS had just been formed, and Malik invited Dahiya to join.

In order to help a fellow Jat, Malik also helped Dahiya procure a licence to run the dairy outlet and waived the rent for the shop. The dairy helped Dahiya meet two fond aspirations: to earn a livelihood and send his children to college.

Caste continues to puzzle and infuriate many modernizers, but the institution has survived and changed in the six decades after independence even as it continues to whip up passions that can split most political parties down the middle.

But away from the heated arguments whether the government should ask citizens details about their caste, the institution itself has shown remarkable resilience and acts as a magnet for identity and philanthropy.

Malik’s focus, for example, is not just Masscon India Pvt. Ltd, the real estate firm of which he is the managing director. As a leader of AIJAS, Malik says he finds his true calling. “The business is important because it helps you make money, but AIJAS is what takes the money where it truly belongs—back to the community.”

Malik is a caste leader, of sorts. His caste outfit and business firm collectively serve the community in two ways: while AIJAS helps needy people from his community who approach him, Masscon becomes the employment generator.

Since the company was set up in 2000, it has recruited around 40 people from the Jat community as office staff alone.

Sociologists view the rise of caste-based organizations as an after-effect of post-Mandal politics in India, the period after 1989 when the Indian government introduced 27% reservation for OBCs in government jobs. “Caste remained unattended before that. Prior to Mandal, there was no reason for individual backward castes to be assertive at the national level. Post-Mandal, caste-based organizations are using caste as an effective instrument of community building and its social and financial upliftment,” Anand Kumar, professor of sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, says.

While there are no hard numbers to measure the spread and appeal of such caste organizations, a search on the Internet throws hundreds of names of such outfits with regularly updated websites. While most of them claim extensive membership, many admit that finding issues relevant to the youth of their communities is a big challenge these days.

The Chitragupta Kalyan Sangathan, an organization for Kayasthas, who are traditionally known as the caste of the account keepers, in Delhi’s Shahdara, has a helpline for jobs and marriages. The small office tucked away in an old dilapidated building is remarkable because it has no staff, except a peon and a typist to answer the telephone, no photocopier and no conference room. “We do most of the work in the field,” its convenor Santok Saxena says. “We have a large community pool of lawyers, financial planners and bankers. Whenever someone needs us, we offer guidance and relevant contacts.”

The Kayastha Mahasabha in Mumbai helps entrepreneurs start their own ventures. “We help them in securing bank loans from our contacts, because it is very difficult for a new entrepreneur to get loans. Sometimes we act as guarantors as well,” says Pramod Srivastava, convenor of the organization.

Over the years though, organizations admit much of their appeal has waned.

“What we do is very traditional, such as organize mass marriages and religious festivals, which don’t attract the youth of our community. While forward castes are capable of financial means to dispense with, there is lack of unity,” says Praveen Sharma, secretary of the Brahman Samaj Sanstha in Delhi.

Sociologist Anand Kumar says unlike the backward caste organizations, associations of forward castes today are on the defensive owing to the rise of OBCs. “They are suffering downward mobility. In the 1950s, they were 70% in elected positions. Now, it is down to 30%. In the changed situation of coalition politics, they are adjusting and have no individual identity,” he points out.

At the same time, analysts feel that the caste organizations’ co-option into politics and vice-versa has led to trivialization of the groups’ roles such as their activities remaining limited to distributing medals and organizing dinners to community members.

Some of the examples of this co-option, where caste groups made way for political voices, are the Bharatiya Lok Dal, which was led by Jat leader Chaudhary Charan Singh in Uttar Pradesh, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Lalu Prasad in Bihar, which acted as growth engines of caste-based politics in India.

Avneesh Dahiya at his outlet in Ghaziabad.Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Ajay Navariya, Dalit writer and assistant professor at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi says caste organizations got politicized after independence and expected the government to provide for everything. “They have lost sight of more pertinent issues at hand and have become victims of casteist politics,” he adds.

About 40km away from Delhi on National Highway 58, Choudhary Chhotu Ram Girls’ Inter College (CCRGC) in Duhai is perhaps a near-perfect example of what may have gone wrong with social work centred around caste and community welfare in the last six decades.

Since 1946 when Jat leader Chaudhary Mukhtiar Singh set up the school for girls’ education, the village of Duhai hasn’t seen the establishment of any other institution of higher education by a member of the community. Around the time the college was founded, the western Uttar Pradesh belt, particularly Muzaffarnagar, saw a spurt in schools and colleges set up by Jat businessmen and leaders.

Since then, the pace of educational work slowed only to stop completely in the 1980s, say educationists.

In his rhetoric on the diminishing role of caste-based organizations in social welfare, Sunil Chowdhary, manager of CCRGC, is quick to lash out at caste-based politics, especially by parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in north India. “Earlier, caste-based organizations were set up to work for social uplift. After the 1980s, almost each one of them rallied with a political outfit to assert themselves politically,” Chowdhary says. “There was a time when even Jat leaders like Choudhary Charan Singh laid foundation of a degree college by Gujjars. Is it possible today?”

Listening intently to the entire debate, Balbir Singh, manager of BR Ambedkar Primary School in Duhai, where he has been providing free education to children of the scheduled castes, differs. “They (caste groups) at least organize our struggle through a forum and raise a collective voice for our causes,” he argues.

Inside Chowdhary’s office, dark and humid without electricity, Singh—with his greying hair and tense forehead—is suddenly agitated by the debate. Slowly, the gathering grows to half a dozen people in the room. Someone quotes example of caste groups in Gujarat, which set up orphanages, rest houses, old-age homes and colleges for the community.

Kantaben Kamdar Charitable Trust and Jhaverchand Manekchand Trust of the Saurashtra Khadayta caste, or the trader caste, for example, contributes around Rs30,000 every month to support 42 families in the villages of Junagadh in Gujarat.

For what little Singh has known, this doesn’t happen in his world. “There are hardly any such groups which work for lower rungs of their communities,” he says.

His concerns are not entirely unfounded. The Ambedkar Samaj Sudhar Samiti (or Ambedkar Social Reform Committee), founded by him, often ends up facing resistance from upper caste groups for the work they do: opposing child marriages, untouchability and manual scavenging.

Eleven years ago, he, then unmarried, even picked up a girl child from the streets and brought her home after police refused to find a shelter despite his repeated reports. “Well, what would you have done?” he asks.

This story was first published here: [ https://www.livemint.com/Politics/7AKkVso8pOiyWJnsQjdDkJ/Rise-of-India8217s-caste-warrior.html ]

Islamic students body on a mission for peace

Pallavi Singh
New Delhi: Hashmatullah Khan says the combination invites scrutiny: students, computers and Islam. In his case, it gets worse. He is general secretary of the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO).

No, not the Students Islamic Movement of India, better known as SIMI, and effectively banned for alleged extremist activities. But Khan can’t avoid the connotation.

Besides both having educated, young Muslims as members, the groups have the same founding father: the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), a semi-political, religious organization, which founded SIO in 1982 after SIMI, that emerged as its offshoot in 1977, broke away from it in 1981.

And so, SIMI and SIO are like estranged family who “shall never meet”, says Bishruddin Sharqi, national president of the latter. “It is like two separate groups who do not agree with each other—one that chose peace and another that chose violence,” he says.

Blood brothers they may be, but the groups have charted conflicting courses, both in principle and actions. While SIMI is largely underground after the government crackdown, SIO is a gradually swelling student revolution in the making, taking Islam beyond the parodied stereotypes of fundamentalism and violence. Its mission: to prepare students, Muslims and non-Muslims, for reconstruction of a peaceful India on the basis of Islamic principles.

All for education: Subair Ahmad, a student of bachelor’s in philosophy and an SIO member, at Jamia Millia Islamia. He travelled to New Delhi from Coimbatore three years ago after qualifying for a scholarship. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

In one of such rooms on the first floor, Khan, 28, single and soft-spoken, serves as office functionary during the day, and studies at night for a PhD in psychology he hopes to pursue after his two-year term at SIO is over. He studied engineering at Karnataka’s Gulbarga University and did postgraduate work in psychology at Madras University before heading to Delhi to serve at the SIO headquarters in 2006. “They elected me to this post and such responsibility is an honour to carry. We all have to live our lives but running a struggle is a noble task,” he says.

Khan is not alone. There are many others, all below 30 and studying to be engineers, doctors and professors. But career advancement for monetary gains is not on SIO’s agenda; the larger goal is to find the roots of culture. “It’s important to know who we are and where we come from. We need an education system that doesn’t just create jobs but makes better human beings out of young people. This is the only solution to corruption and violence,” Khan says.

So, along with weekly meetings to discuss the Quran’s teachings, SIO amply harps on the same teachings to help its members introspect and regain the “lost struggle”. “There is so much materialism around. Everyone is racing to make money. Families are breaking down and women are being objectified. We are aping the West. We have to struggle for indigenous ideas of development,” Nazeer Ahmad Bagdali, office secretary of SIO, explains.

Practically applied, the organization is comfortable with sex education in schools but not for children below puberty. It welcomes reservation for other backward classes (OBCs), but seeks more Central universities for education of minorities.

It launched campaigns for peaceful campuses after the reported incidents of violence at Aligarh Muslim University. Technology as a tool of development and campaign is more than a mere buzzword. Ten years ago, SIO was one of the earliest student groups to have launched its website. Recent addition has been a text messaging service aimed at delivering updates on its activities to its members and associates.

“With India emerging as an IT power, it’s a great opportunity for us to discover cheaper and more effective ways of spreading education. SIO has kept ahead with the changing times and focused on students’ issues more than politics,” says S.Q.R. Ilyas, former SIO member who now edits Afkar-e-Milli, an Urdu journal and is also a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Like Ilyas, a large number of SIO members graduate to JIH, which works for communal harmony with other religious groups, such as Christians, Sikhs and Hindus. JIH’s leadership includes both Muslim clerics, known as the ulema, and educated professionals and academicians, many of whom were once SIO members. JIH has also worked to influence India’s foreign policy to favour Muslim nations and condemn the policies of Israel and the US.

But SIMI is a past neither JIH nor SIO wants to visit. “We have nothing to do with SIMI and, therefore, we wouldn’t like to talk about it,” says Khan in response to persistent queries and veers to SIO’s growing spread across the country, and even in Nagaland and Tripura.

In the years since its inception, the organization has grown to a membership strength of 4,110, in addition to 94,504 associates and 34,358 junior associates. Total units of SIO count up to 621, with more than 3,000 campus branches in universities and 65 branches in religious institutions across the country.

From these institutions, the organization has found its national-level leaders—from states such as Kerala, Karnataka, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, with degrees in languages—from Arabic to Bangla, history and commerce, among others.

Twenty-year-old Bagdali is one such aspirant from Bidar in Karnataka. Son of an auto-rickshaw driver and eldest among nine siblings, Bagdali’s early days with SIO at his hometown lead him to grow within the organization’s rank and files. Today, he manages office affairs of SIO and pursues his bachelor’s in Urdu literature from Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad through distance education mode. “If not for SIO, I wouldn’t have dreamt of education,” he says in a rush.

While educational awareness programmes are on SIO’s agenda with special focus on enrolment in schools, educational assistance in the form of scholarships, book banks, libraries, reading rooms, study circles, career guidance, hostels and coaching classes are also arranged for the students.

For women, they have a separate wing—Girls Islamic Organisation, with the same goals and organizational set-up.

One of the scholarship programmes launched by the SIO has helped more than 12,000 students across the country, including Bagdali, attain higher education. Subair Ahmad, a bachelor’s student of philosophy at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, travelled to Delhi from Coimbatore three years ago after qualifying for a scholarship. “My parents couldn’t have funded my education here. SIO pays my fees and accommodation expenses,” Ahmad says.

But the Jamia student is more excited about the fact that he can now speak fluent English. This is part of SIO’s efforts towards education in the English medium, in a break from the traditional madrasa education. The organization is even mulling a universal education programme along the lines of the government-funded Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and opening of centres funded by the government under the National Institute of Open Schooling in madrasas and Muslim schools for basic education in science and English.

“This is where the future lies. We can’t live in the past and let our youth suffer and feel suffocated. SIO will continue to give them a positive direction and means of peaceful struggle for a better nation,” SIO’s national president Sharqi says.

But beneath the robust purpose lurk muted fears. After aggressive campaigns in line with Jamaat’s call for activism on issues such as the contentious Shah Bano judgement of 1985, which called for lifelong alimony for Muslim women after divorce, and the Babri mosque demolition in 1992, SIO’s theme shifted from active struggle to educational goals.

“We as an organization realized that till the time we are educationally backward, no change can be brought about,” Ilyas, who is also member of Jamaat’s Babri Mosque Movement Coordination Committee, says. At a convention to celebrate 25 years of the organization last year, SIO members spoke on the threats Islam faced: extremism and misinterpretations of Quran. They also found compelling themes to address in the future: education and dialogue.

This story was first published in Mint – [ https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/FxUaXsf4b7nUaDTm4lggdP/Islamic-students-body-on-a-mission-for-peace.html ]

Government’s madrasa reform plan hits theological hurdle

New Delhi: The impasse over a government proposal to modernize madrasas, or traditional Islamic schools, illustrates how a “minority mindset” imposed by the ulema, or clergy, and politicians could draw Muslims deeper into the morass of conservatism, poverty and unemployment.

Fostering education: (from left) Shafiqur Rahman, Abdul Khan, Afaque Rahmani and Salim Akhtar Bellali at a New Delhi hotel in September after receiving the national award for best Urdu teachers. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

Since taking over as the human resource development minister in May, Kapil Sibal has been driving reforms in all areas of education. Among his initiatives is a renewed push for the 2004 Madrasa Modernisation Scheme, which aims to include the teaching of modern subjects in the largely theological curriculum and centralize the management of the thousands of Islamic seminaries spread all across India.

“It’s a big step for Muslim education,” says Firoz Bakht Ahmed, the grandnephew of one of independent India’s founders, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and a writer on minority issues and madrasa education. The scheme will enable students from various parts of the country to seek jobs of their choice, he says.

Changes are urgently needed to improve the state of the community. A committee under former Delhi high court chief justice Rajinder Sachar, which conducted independent India’s first exhaustive study on how Muslims fare in education and employment compared with others, established that the community was lagging behind in education and government jobs.

Some 25% of Muslim children in the age group 6-14 have never been to school, though the national average primary enrolment rates are above 95%, the committee found. The Sachar committee also found that only 3% of Muslim children went to madrasas, denting the government’s argument for using the modernization of religious schools as a means to improve the community’s primary education.

Sibal promised a consensus within 100 days on the scheme, which the government views as crucial for the long-term uplift of the community. Modern education will provide Muslim youth from these seminaries a progressive socio-political outlook as well as help them find jobs and assimilate into the Indian success story. But the consensus deadline passed in August, and there is still no agreement on reforming madrasa education.

The reason? Many madrasas find the teaching of modern subjects such as science and mathematics alongside the Quran too much of a dichotomy. Sections of the ulema and politicians belonging to the community also view the move as government intervention that will dilute the essentially theological nature of the madrasas.

Elusive consensus

The Madrasa Modernisation Scheme was proposed in 2004 by the newly set-up national monitoring committee for minorities education, effectively formalizing a 1986 government initiative to improve the quality of education at the schools.

It provides for setting up an All-India Madrasa Board to monitor the implementation of the modernization programme as well as help them upgrade infrastructure and facilities.

The Central Madrasa Board Bill 2009, which is yet to be moved in Parliament due to a lack of consensus, empowers the board to take steps for the standardization of the non-theological aspects of seminary education and its comprehensive, systematic and integrated development.

The board can promote education in non-theological subjects such as science, social science, mathematics, English and Hindi without interfering in any manner with the theological content and evaluation of madrasa education. The scheme will also devise ways to promote education of Muslim girls to eradicate gender-based educational disparities.

About 6,000 madrasas, 1,800 teachers and 700,000 children will be covered under the scheme for qualitative improvement, which would enable the children to attain standards prescribed by the national education system in formal subjects.

During 2008-2009, Rs27 crore was released for 4,597 madrasas in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The scheme will also provide augmented infrastructure in private aided/unaided minority schools/institutions, estimated at around 400 across India, in order to enhance the quality of education.

But most of the 18 members of Parliament (MPs) from the Muslim community, who met ministry officials to discuss the issue in October, opposed the terms for the constitution of the national madrasa board. The MPs said the proposal, which stipulates certain appointment norms, may lead to interference by the government in the functioning of madrasas and not adequately represent the Muslim community.

Caught in the middle

The impasse has disappointed people such as Afaque Rahmani, who operates from the ill-equipped Madrasa Ahmadia in Bihar’s Madhubani district. Rahmani, a 54-year-old postgraduate in botany, is pro-reform and looks at modernization as crucial to the progress of the community at large. He already teaches science at the madrasa of his own accord, but was banking on the policy change to get state-of-the-art infrastructure and faculty for his students.

For 23 years, Rahmani has managed to cope with the challenge of teaching science along with the religious teaching of the Quran with rudimentary facilities. But in September, when the human resources development ministry proposed Rahmani’s name with three others as the country’s best Urdu teachers for the President’s medal, he joined the emerging chorus from the seminaries to be heard. The discontent is not just due to the dilemma over integrating modern subjects with religious texts; it pertains to the very rudimentary, day-to-day needs of the madrasas.

One computer has been procured to impart vocational training to children. But apart from that, Rahmani has just a few pieces of chalk and a blackboard. Typically, he says, the hurdles are basic—such as how to show his students chemical reactions or the dynamics of a spring balance as listed in textbooks. “Unless your students see the chemicals turning yellow, blue or red in a beaker, how much fun can they have studying science?”

Rahmani’s love for science and the joy of teaching, despite the resource crunch, keep him going. Back in 1976, when Rahmani had just joined the madrasa after his postgraduation at a local college in Madhubani, he had gone on a door-to-door campaign to get children to attend the school. “There was much resistance and disbelief,” he recalls.

Enrolment has risen to 500 over the years, he says. Since 2003, the pass percentage has also gone up steadily. “In the beginning, it was a dismal 20-30%. Now, 80-90% of children pass out with good marks,” he adds.

Pay, faculty problems

With enhanced enrolment, what remains dismal is the salaries paid to madrasa teachers, says Maulana Shafiqur Rahman, superintendent of the Deorail Madrasa in Assam, who was recognized as the best Urdu teacher of the year last month along with Rahmani. “Worse, the salaries never come on time.”

In Bihar, madrasa teachers get Rs2,000-3,800, while a recent hike in dearness allowance raised the salary of principals in seminaries aided by or affiliated to the state madrasa board to about Rs11,000 a month.

In Assam, apart from the meagre pay, there is an acute shortage of teachers, especially for science. The last appointment of teachers happened in 1999. “Thousands of teaching posts have been lying vacant since then. The government is neglecting minority education in the state, even as education standards keep falling,” says Rahman.

Vacant faculty positions have now become a challenge for these seminaries, says Rahmani, who has been aggressively trying to hire teachers for science and mathematics for the last two years. “For years, we have not taught modern subjects at the seminaries. Hence, there are no teachers good enough to be hired,” he says.

Much of this could be taken care of by the setting up of the national board under the Madrasa Modernisation Scheme.

Question marks

But questions about the scheme have been raised even by those who don’t necessarily fear its secular impact.

A section of detractors fears the introduction of a separate board for madrasas would alienate the Muslim community. “Ideally, there should be some provision in the existing education boards,” says Salim Akhtar Bellali, principal of Faazil Madrasa in Darbhanga, Bihar.

The agenda for reforming madrasas is also being linked with the question of countering “terrorism”, says Rahman.

In Assam, where his seminary imparts education to 350 Muslim children from economically backward sections, classes are often interrupted by police carrying out security checks. “We have computers, we have books in English, we have students who can converse in English—but no militants. The allegation that madrasas breed militants is completely baseless,” he says.

The government reserves the power to appoint the panel that would run the board, remove any member, and monitor the way funds are used. This provision has also caused the Muslim community to accuse the government of trying to control madrasas.

“The hurry with which the government is trying to implement things, it appears that it wants to regulate madrasas,” says Khalid Hamidi, professor of Arabic at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “A madrasa means Islamic school. Universities like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia recognize madrasa certificates. Then, what is the need for such modernization programmes?’’

Hamidi’s question relates partly to the concern that reforms may alter the “Islamic nature” of the madrasas, with some Muslims viewing the schools as an expression of identity rather than as seminaries where a young generation can be trained to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

This was first published in Mint [https://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/NZg147aJQ8Oho55W9MrK9L/Government8217s-madrasa-reform-plan-hits-theological-hurd.html].

In the job market, Caste role reversal

I am absolutely thrilled to share another story on caste. This one again has gone missing from Mint’s website. I found this story’s draft on my drive and googled with the first four lines. Guess what, this blog had shared the story with the Mint link that does not work anymore. Thanks to the blog, I now have a full version of my published article. This article talks about the reversal of caste in the labour market with globalization.

Here you go:

In job market, caste role reversal

http://www.livemint.com/2010/11/09180926/In-job-market-caste-role-reve.html?atype=tpPosted: Wed, Nov 10 2010. 1:00 AM IST

Rapid globalization has altered the historical structure that allotted
well-paying jobs to the upper castes

Pallavi Singh

Anil Kumar Mishra wears a sacred yellow thread around his torso,
effectively covered by his ash-blue uniform. While ushering in
visitors’ vehicles in the basement parking of V3S shopping mall in New
Delhi’s Nirman Vihar, he always hopes not to run into any acquaintance
from his village Shahabad in Bihar.

The yellow thread, he insists, can embarrassingly give him away.

Back home, this relic of religiosity is what shapes his identity—he is
the privileged Brahmin, the upper-caste Hindu whose primary role in
the Varna system is to worship the gods. In fact, this is what his
father Badrinarayan Mishra did all his life and survived on regular
doles from Hindu devotees during festivals.

Two of his younger brothers in Shahabad continue the family tradition,
but Anil says the vocation assigned to him by virtue of his caste
brought his family little money.

At 45, the college dropout is in a line of work which is considered a
lowly occupation for Maithil Brahmins—one of the highest ranking
Brahmins—in his village. He is a parking attendant, and by his own
admission, if he had enough education, he would be doing something
else. “Respect is very important in a job and everyone respects
priests. Position of a parking attendant is still better than that of
a security guard. No one gives him any respect, you know, and people
often address him lousily. I would never tolerate that. After all, I
am a Brahmin,” he says, adding that people seldom violate his
instructions in the parking lot, which is at least not disrespectful
for his upper-caste lineage.

For thousands of years, caste has remained a superior marker and an
important identity in India for upper-caste Hindus such as Anil, but
rapid globalization and economic reforms in its wake may now be
reversing the historical structure that allotted the well-paying jobs
only to the upper castes and forbade them from taking up menial jobs.
“In India, one doesn’t have a caste without any occupational identity.
But in a globalized world, much of the caste order has begun to
reverse itself primarily because of movement of low-caste Dalits from
farm to non-farm sectors such as industry, entry of multinational
firms with caste-neutral jobs and the subsequent race for money,
clearing the space for unemployed upper castes to step in,” says
Chandra Bhan Prasad, Dalit writer, activist and author of Dalit
Phobia: Why do they hate us? Prasad is currently researching the
emerging trend of this role reversal in collaboration with the
University of Pennsylvania in the US.

A recent study by Prasad, Devesh Kapur, Lant Pritchett and Shyam Babu,
excerpted last month in the Economic and Political Weekly and reported
by Mint, reflected two significant changes in economic activity of low
caste community in Uttar Pradesh: More and more Dalits are working as
sharecroppers on farm land rather than as labourers, and fewer among
them are handling animal corpses, traditionally an occupation limited
to the community.

Prasad argues that such changes, reflective of a higher social status
for Dalits, have diluted the upper caste arrogance of Hindus
significantly. “Upper-caste Hindus are going through a great amount of
distress. For centuries, they have owned land, but in the post-reform
period, they suddenly realize that owning a television set or a mobile
phone is a much bigger social status than their caste superiority.
They feel threatened when they can’t achieve them,” he adds.

The growing importance of money in a free-market era is also
undermining the importance of caste by allotting more value to
material possessions instead of social status, Prasad says. “This
money-making phase is very similar to the wave of materialism in the
US in 1960s when the growing importance of money resulted in more
democratic relations between the whites and blacks. Even the upper
caste Hindus such as Brahmins and Rajputs are willingly taking up jobs
that they vehemently detest,” argues Prasad.

Saroj Kumar Chaudhary, 18, perfectly understands the situation. He was
brought to Delhi from Madhubani in Bihar a year ago by a relative
after his father, a small-time farmer, began chiding him for his
constant demands for a mobile. A high-school dropout, Saroj landed a
scavenging job with the Centrestage Mall in Noida.

During the ten-hour shift at the mall, Chaudhary’s primary task is to
keep its toilets clean for which he is paid Rs.4,800 a month. However,
in the slums of Loni in Ghaziabad where he now lives, he is known as
an attendant in a television showroom, a lie he deliberately sells.
“Everyone knows I am a Bhumihar Brahmin and no one expects me to do
such a dirty job,” he says, admitting to his upper-caste identity
after repeated queries.

To Saroj’s rescue are the modern tools of scavenging—a steel wiper,
toilet cleaning solutions and tissue papers—and for the “new-age
look”, he also has a dark blue uniform with a cap similar to that of
his colleagues; even the work he does has what Chandra Bhan Prasad
calls a “caste-neutral name for a caste-loaded occupation”:
housekeeping. “Multinationals have been instruments of change in this
regard; they have made scavenging appear caste-neutral. Brooms have
vanished and these men in the toilets look like professionals,” Prasad
adds.

But it was neither the euphemistic name nor the modern tools for
scavenging that led Asha Devi to join the housekeeping staff at
Pacific Mall in Ghaziabad. Since migrating to Delhi from Etah district
in Uttar Pradesh seven years ago, Asha who is a Rajput, the warrior
caste, took up the housekeeping job a month ago, without telling her
husband, for the sheer shield of anonymity it offers. “I was working
as a maid in the bungalows of Noida before this. I would earn about
the same amount of money then too, but then, everyone around us would
know that I was washing utensils and sweeping floors in bungalows. My
husband wouldn’t like that either, so how could I tell him I am
cleaning toilets now?” she says.

Asha’s husband, who is an autorickshaw driver, picks her up after work
and she says she takes special care about what she wears after her
10-hour shift is over. “I take a bath and use a deodorant. Even
make-up. And, I almost every day remind my supervisor that he should
not tell my husband anything except that I dust off files in an
office,” she says.

Alak N. Sharma, director of Institute of Human Development in New
Delhi, says the upper-caste migration from villages to bigger cities
and metros is growing at an exponential rate, especially in states
such as Bihar where individual landholding has shrunk over the years.

“Upper-castes who have traditionally held land over the years are now
finding it difficult to feed themselves. Earnings from agriculture
aren’t enough anymore even as property partition in families keeps
reducing individual landholding. In fact, upper castes are migrating
more now than the lower castes are,” Sharma says.

Many Dalits and even upper-caste Brahmins, especially in rural areas,
don’t have a shot at a decent education—a must for the fastest-growing
areas of India’s economy such as software development, medicine and
engineering. India’s reservation policy, which reserves seats for the
scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes in
institutions of higher education, haven’t benefited the community
much, argues its critics.

Yet, reservations helped OBCs such as Naresh Yadav, who runs an auto
agency in Haryana’s Faridabad, get college education and employment.
“After graduation, I worked in a call centre and saved money to start
this agency. Without education, would you expect me to come this far?”

Yadav’s small-scale Yadu Auto today employs six drivers, out of which
two are Kayasthas, the merchant caste several ranks higher than the
Yadavs in Hindu caste order.

For a number of migrants, moving outside the state for work also works
as a symbol of upward social mobility and freedom from the repressive
caste hierarchy in the state. Only 42% of migrants working in rural
areas of Bihar would appreciate having a job in their native state,
notes a recent study on migration from the state by the Delhi-based
Indian Institute of Public Administration. “Out-migration for
employment sake has now become a craze. So much so that now staying at
village is equated with laziness among fellow villagers,” says Girish
Kumar, co-author of the study.

Gore Lal Singh, a Rajput, owns five bighas of land (two hectares) in
his village in Allahabad district, dominated by members of his caste,
but he would continue with his job as a security guard at the Pacific
Mall in Ghaziabad than go back and till his land.

“I can’t afford hiring (agricultural) labour for my land and if I work
myself, it will be looked down upon. So, I had to come here… But there
are many here who do even worse, you see, many who work as servants,
many who sell newspapers, many who do work they wouldn’t go back home
and talk about,” he says.

Many, like him.

Dalit Capitalism

I covered Dalit capitalism for Mint in its early days when DICCI as a chamber of commerce for the Dalit community had just come up. My boss at Mint, who is an economist, always felt proud of my work, especially on Dalit capitalism. Today, I spoke to Milind Kamble, founder and chairman of DICCI, in a decade and learned of the advances made by the community. This also prompted me to search for my stories on Dalit capitalism on the Mint website but a majority of them are missing! I am told that Mint had a website revamp which might have interfered with the articles. However, I found my report on a blog.

Anyway, I found this one (unedited) on my drive today. This report is a minefield for researchers (so proud to have written this story):

The rise of Dalit Entrepreneurship

http://www.livemint.com/2010/12/26190827/The-rise-of-Dalit-entrepreneur.html?atype=tp
Posted: Mon, Dec 27 2010. 1:00 AM IST

The community has found an escape both from the demeaning tasks
assigned to them by the caste system and the stigma of being branded
as non-meritorious beneficiaries of reservations in India
Pallavi Singh, pallavi.s@livemint.com

Around 40 years ago, huddled among a group of hungry children in his
native village of Vadgaon Budruk in Maharashtra, Rajendra Gaikwad had
an epiphany about how there was discrimination in a simple seating
arrangement.

It was a mass lunch thrown by upper-caste Marathas and the
nine-year-old was seated along with his mother in a corner of the
temple where Dalits of the village ate. “We were segregated from the
upper-caste Hindus, which was very humiliating. Even as a child, I
felt insulted and would cry each time my parents would talk of
visiting the village. I didn’t return after that,” he says.

Gaikwad is today based in Pune and runs a pest-control firm with
operations in India and Singapore. He is also a member of a growing
band of Dalit entrepreneurs who have eagerly grabbed the opportunities
offered by a booming Indian economy to break the occupational shackles
imposed on their community for centuries.

Atin Kamble is a third-generation Dalit entrepreneur from Mumbai who
has none of Gaikwad’s bitter childhood tales to tell. After eight
years in the business of marketing edible goods in Mumbai shops
through his venture Arti Enterprises, 36-year-old Kamble is
ambitiously pitching for two power-generation projects in Arunanchal
Pradesh, which would need an investment of a minimum of Rs.15 crore
initially.

His grandfather began with a modest business of leather goods, a
vocation traditionally allocated to Dalits, in Mumbai’s crowded Dadar
area; his father expanded the family business but Kamble chose to
strike out on his own.

“I somehow found sitting in my grandfather’s leather business shop
infra dig. I mean, it’s a peon’s job, if you are ambitious. I wanted
to do something that would give our business the status of industry,”
he says. And adds: “Today I am dealing with distributors and local
shopkeepers in the food business. When my children take over, they
will be dealing with super stockists.”

As opposed to Kamble’s pedigree and Gaikwad’s fortunes, Dashrath
Singh, who uses a surname mostly used by upper-caste Rajputs in India,
is still struggling in the garments business he runs from a rundown
garage in the congested Om Nagar slum in Delhi. Yet, from where he
stands today, it isn’t just a matter of miles covered, but it’s a
significant leap from his native village of Vari in Uttar Pradesh’s
Bulandshahar district to Delhi.

Singh’s work over a decade has included a series of humble vocations,
among them a helper at a grocery shop, an autorickshaw driver, a
door-to-door salesman of clothes, and a conductor in private buses,
before the idea of entrepreneurship struck him. Three years into his
business, he sometimes “earns lakhs in a month and sometimes just a
paltry sum”. But he insists things couldn’t get better. “Whatever it
is, I am on my own. I seek no favours,” he explains.

Gaikwad, Kamble and Singh are three faces of an emerging Dalit
capitalism that allows them an escape both from the demeaning tasks
assigned to them by the caste system and the stigma of being branded
as non-meritorious beneficiaries of reservations in education and
employment.

D. Shyam Babu, a fellow of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary
Studies (RGICS) in New Delhi, says Dalit capitalism is still at a
nascent stage, but adds that it will help create a Dalit bourgeoisie.
“It has the seeds of transformation for Dalits—from the lower class to
the middle class and beyond,” says Babu, whose research on Dalits and
the new economic order has highlighted the social advance of the
community in the wake of globalization.

“I know Dalit entrepreneurs who manufacture copper wires and cables
for use by the Indian Railways and the Delhi Metro, which proves that
these businesses are competitive, quality-oriented and efficient. This
is what Dalits in business want to prove today: they are good as
everyone else,” says author and activist Chandra Bhan Prasad, who is
currently compiling a database of entrepreneurs in the community.

Though the rise of the market economy has helped break many old social
barriers, Dalit businessmen still have to deal with several hurdles on
their chosen road.

“Most Dalit entrepreneurs face problems varying from difficulty in
getting enough supplies on credit, lack of social networks, absence of
kin groups in the business, and control of traditionally dominant
business-caste groups. These, along with other social variables such
as lack of social capital, make the Dalit situation in India more
complicated and vulnerable to homogeneous categorization,” says
Surinder S. Jodhka, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Social
Systems at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Jodhka’s paper, ‘Dalits in Business: Self-Employed Scheduled Castes in
Northwest India’, drew insight on the expansion of private capital in
India during the post-1991 period and highlighted the discrimination
faced by Dalit businesses. The marginal status of Dalits and their
continued discrimination in the urban labour market also find
recognition in the 11th Five Year Plan released in October 2008. The
paper notes that “in urban areas, too, there is prevalence of
discrimination by caste, particularly discrimination in employment,
which operates at least in part through traditional mechanisms; SCs
(scheduled castes) are disproportionately represented in poorly paid,
dead-end jobs. Further, there is a flawed preconceived notion that
they lack merit and are unsuitable for formal employment”.

A poor economic and social background thus makes the beginning
difficult—only to be eased by outside help, mostly from the community
or well-off upper-caste individuals. “Forty years ago, when I began, I
would go on a cycle in rain and sun to various places—from a poultry
farm to an army cantonment, to kill rats and do odd jobs. I slowly
learnt that businesses need hard work and professionalism,” Gaikwad
says. In almost an afterthought, he adds: “A gentlemen called Mr.
Deshpande helped me get a loan from a bank by agreeing to be a
guarantor. The fact that he was an upper-caste man did help in making
my application appear serious.”

S. Galab, a professor at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in
Hyderabad, who carried out research on the role and effectiveness of
self-help groups run by Dalit women in Andhra Pradesh, says most Dalit
enterprises suffer because of social isolation and the lack of
cooperation, and get over the initial hiccups only with help from
upper-caste individuals, since Dalits haven’t had a strong footing in
the social and economic sphere for centuries. “However, the upper
caste help also, kind of, co-opts the Dalits into the overall existing
structures, which is why they find it difficult to think about giving
back to their community later,” he cautions.

Various economic fora have also emerged over the years to help Dalits
overcome initial hurdles in setting up businesses. At the Pune-based
Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, formed three years ago,
its chairman Milind Kamble not just works on a database of Dalit
businessmen, but also helps them find linkages in industry.

And yet, argues author and activist Prasad, the emerging
entrepreneurship will need government help to thrive. “The government
ought to constitute a body, say, the ‘National Scheduled Caste and
Scheduled Tribes Supplier Development Council’, which should identify
Dalit/tribal entrepreneurs who are already supplying goods and
services to the government through middlemen, and connecting them
directly to procurement departments,” he says, citing examples from
the US, where a national body connects minority entrepreneurs with
large American firms.

To those who say that such a practice goes against the spirit of a
free market, Prasad argues that the Indian bourgeoisie itself would
not have thrived without state support and protection till 1991.
“Dalit businesses particularly need help since most of these are
small-scale operations,” he adds.

Explaining that economic standing is the only way Dalits can redefine
themselves, RGICS’ Babu likens the trend to the wave of Black
Capitalism in the US in the 1970s and 1980s. “There are strong
similarities. Like the black capitalists of America, most of the Dalit
entrepreneurs are first-generation entrepreneurs, people who were
never into businesses but mostly relying on agricultural labour. To
get into serious business from agriculture is a paradigm shift. And,
in both cases, here as in the United States, even though there have
been state interventions to promote entrepreneurship, individual
motivation and community help have come first,” Babu says.

Photo credit: https://bit.ly/2Ms0aiJ

 

Jamia Millia fights to preserve secular spirit

In just a fortnight, Jamia Nagar, best known as the host of the historic Jamia Millia Islamia, has become a world of fear.

The realization hit A.K. Ramakrishnan, a professor at the university’s Centre for West Asian studies, after 19 September. That’s when bullets fired by the police at Batla House, one of the several closely nestled buildings in the area, killed one student, and also shattered a sense of security for others, creating shrouds of suspicion overall.

Seeking redressal: Students of Jamia Millia Islamia during a peace march against terrorism in New Delhi on 25 September. Mohd Zakir / Hindustan Times

Instantly, effortlessly, Jamia Nagar transformed into an alleged haven for terror merchants.

A “laptop became a stronger weapon than an AK-47 and the terrorist emerged as the educated, Internet-savvy Muslim, and most possibly, a Jamia student”, says Ramakrishnan.

Now, a coalition of faculty, students and legal experts are fighting back, saying the scrutiny on the university is unconstitutional, and are offering legal aid to the detained. In the process, they contend with duelling definitions of Jamia Millia Islamia, better known as JMU, from its desire to be a minority institution while also remaining true to its secular founding.

Already, several students living in rented accommodations in Jamia Nagar were asked to move out by their landlords, and two—Ziaur Rehman and Zeeshan Ahmad—were picked up by the police for interrogation.

Even before the shootout, an Urdu scholar at the university was picked up by the police and later released. Countless others are moving to pre-empt such moves. One Muslim student at the university from Araria, Bihar, met Ramakrishnan with profound doubts.

“My parents called me up and asked me to return home. They even went to the extent of asking me to deregister myself from the university. I don’t know when or whether I would be coming back,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Lecturer Manisha Sethi, like Ramakrishnan, was also flooded by an anxious stream of students, mostly Muslims, all waiting to return home.

“They were all scared by the brazen witch-hunting by the police. That was time for us to act. We keep hearing of blasts in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, but this was too close for comfort. This was right at our doorsteps and we couldn’t just ignore it,” says Sethi, lecturer at the varsity’s centre for comparative religions and civilization since December 2005, who visited the area several times after the encounter.

She and 40 other colleagues, mostly non-Muslims, then did what is often unheard of in university circles. They moved quickly to form Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Group, a counter-response to the “ugly stereotypes of Muslim students and the university at large”, hoping to allay fears of their students and also bridge the quickly widening gap between the neighbourhood and the university.

This was in addition to the unprecedented offer of legal aid tendered by the university administration to the detained students.

Over the last 15 days, the group’s members have made frantic visits to the neighbourhood where about 200 students from the university stay, and demanded that the detained students be considered innocent until proven guilty. The university administration has even announced construction of new hostels to house more students. Currently, the hostels at Jamia accommodates 1,000 students.

To all the initiatives, they say, the idea of the neighbourhood is central.

“This is because this is where a large number of our students and teachers come from. We can’t abandon them and if they feel alienated, this does no good to anyone,” Sethi says.

But beneath the immediate and aggressively articulated response to the turn of events is a deeper concern. The overwhelming and perhaps unwarranted attention for the 88-year-old university—founded in response to Mahatma Gandhi’s call in the 1920s to boycott all educational institutions supported or run by the colonial regime—endangers its secular spirit, insists Tabrej Alam, secretary of the Jamia Teachers’ Association that unanimously supported vice-chancellor Mushirul Hasan’s controversial decision to provide legal aid to detained students, rattling off names of monuments on its campus and historic events that shaped the university.

“Secularists like Dr Zakir Husain was our vice-chancellor from 1926 to 1948, and the President of the nation. We are disturbed and distressed by the misperceptions about our institution. Surely, this is not what we deserve considering our liberal and progressive record,” Alam points out.

For the most part, the university does live up to Alam’s feverish secular pitch. From the Bagh-i-Nanak, named after Sikh religious leader Guru Nanak to the majestic Dabistan-i-Gandhi, one of the academic complexes named after Mahatma Gandhi, buildings on the Jamia campus reflect its Weltanschauung, robust reminders of its tryst with the freedom struggle and secular thought.

While the past is cherished, Anuradha Ghosh, professor at the university’s English department, also lists the successes of the present and argues that it does “embody the idea of India”.

“Jamia as a university has expanded like never before. With the expansion, we have various new centres and courses on a variety of subjects. We are no more an introvert university. We are asking questions and debating issues,” she explains.

Ghosh’s enthusiasm is palpable. From modern architecture on the campus to newly opened centres, the university wears an open look. More than 20 centres that have opened at the university in the last four years offer courses in subjects such as Gandhian studies, culture, media and governance, comparative religion and civilization, theoretical physics, interdisciplinary research in basic sciences, physiotherapy and rehabilitation sciences and West Asian studies.

To most academic discourses, the theme of partition has become central, and not an untouchable topic.

“Jamia as a university opposed the pernicious two-nation theory and has not wavered from the principles of pluralism and secularism. The expansion has attracted more students from various parts of the country and made it more secular and inclusive,” Alam says.

And, while Jamia’s tryst with terror may be new, the past few years did bring the reputation of violence to the university with administration sparring with the student union over admissions and fee hikes, and its teachers’ union demanding a “minority status” for the university.

While the Jamia students’ union was later dissolved, a petition on the status is still pending before the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, seeking to reserve half the seats for Muslim students.

Currently, the university has no religion-based reservations, though it does reserve 25% of its seats for students of Jamia wishing to continue further studies.

Ramakrishnan says the petition is more relevant now than ever before.

“With the stereotypes being propagated about the Muslims, it’s even more important to make space for them in institutions of higher learning. If you don’t allow them to move up the social ladder and have a future, what option do they have?”

Alam, who is also general secretary of the Federation of Central Universities Teachers’ Association, cites the example of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which has often been in the news for unrest on campus.

“If universities like AMU and ours do not welcome students from the minority community, where will they go? It’s important more than ever that we protect our nationalist legacy while bringing Muslims into mainstream education.”

AMU teachers’ association notably extended support to Jamia in offering help to its students. But amid the earnestness of dispelling the stereotypes, questions about the implications of the university’s move to provide legal aid to the accused students once the investigations prove them guilty have become a forbidden territory. “We are just giving them a fair chance to present their case. This is just to instill confidence in our student community that their alma mater hasn’t abandoned them,” Alam says.

The 12,000-strong student community at Jamia would perhaps agree. But for Jamia’s many-coloured histories—with Gandhi’s begging bowl for its stumbling finances and Tagore’s welcome for its progressive school of thought— the present is an uneasy liability: an ironic picture of violence tugging at the heart of its secularism.

 

Earlier published in Mint.

Government’s madrasa reform plan hits theological hurdle

The impasse over a government proposal to modernize madrasas, or traditional Islamic schools, illustrates how a “minority mindset” imposed by the ulema, or clergy, and politicians could draw Muslims deeper into the morass of conservatism, poverty and unemployment.

Fostering education: (from left) Shafiqur Rahman, Abdul Khan, Afaque Rahmani and Salim Akhtar Bellali at a New Delhi hotel in September after receiving the national award for best Urdu teachers. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

Since taking over as the human resource development minister in May, Kapil Sibal has been driving reforms in all areas of education. Among his initiatives is a renewed push for the 2004 Madrasa Modernisation Scheme, which aims to include the teaching of modern subjects in the largely theological curriculum and centralize the management of the thousands of Islamic seminaries spread all across India.

“It’s a big step for Muslim education,” says Firoz Bakht Ahmed, the grandnephew of one of independent India’s founders, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and a writer on minority issues and madrasa education. The scheme will enable students from various parts of the country to seek jobs of their choice, he says.

Changes are urgently needed to improve the state of the community. A committee under former Delhi high court chief justice Rajinder Sachar, which conducted independent India’s first exhaustive study on how Muslims fare in education and employment compared with others, established that the community was lagging behind in education and government jobs.

Some 25% of Muslim children in the age group 6-14 have never been to school, though the national average primary enrolment rates are above 95%, the committee found. The Sachar committee also found that only 3% of Muslim children went to madrasas, denting the government’s argument for using the modernization of religious schools as a means to improve the community’s primary education.

Sibal promised a consensus within 100 days on the scheme, which the government views as crucial for the long-term uplift of the community. Modern education will provide Muslim youth from these seminaries a progressive socio-political outlook as well as help them find jobs and assimilate into the Indian success story. But the consensus deadline passed in August, and there is still no agreement on reforming madrasa education.

The reason? Many madrasas find the teaching of modern subjects such as science and mathematics alongside the Quran too much of a dichotomy. Sections of the ulema and politicians belonging to the community also view the move as government intervention that will dilute the essentially theological nature of the madrasas.

Elusive consensus

The Madrasa Modernisation Scheme was proposed in 2004 by the newly set-up national monitoring committee for minorities education, effectively formalizing a 1986 government initiative to improve the quality of education at the schools.

It provides for setting up an All-India Madrasa Board to monitor the implementation of the modernization programme as well as help them upgrade infrastructure and facilities.

The Central Madrasa Board Bill 2009, which is yet to be moved in Parliament due to a lack of consensus, empowers the board to take steps for the standardization of the non-theological aspects of seminary education and its comprehensive, systematic and integrated development.

The board can promote education in non-theological subjects such as science, social science, mathematics, English and Hindi without interfering in any manner with the theological content and evaluation of madrasa education. The scheme will also devise ways to promote education of Muslim girls to eradicate gender-based educational disparities.

About 6,000 madrasas, 1,800 teachers and 700,000 children will be covered under the scheme for qualitative improvement, which would enable the children to attain standards prescribed by the national education system in formal subjects.

During 2008-2009, Rs27 crore was released for 4,597 madrasas in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The scheme will also provide augmented infrastructure in private aided/unaided minority schools/institutions, estimated at around 400 across India, in order to enhance the quality of education.

But most of the 18 members of Parliament (MPs) from the Muslim community, who met ministry officials to discuss the issue in October, opposed the terms for the constitution of the national madrasa board. The MPs said the proposal, which stipulates certain appointment norms, may lead to interference by the government in the functioning of madrasas and not adequately represent the Muslim community.

Caught in the middle

The impasse has disappointed people such as Afaque Rahmani, who operates from the ill-equipped Madrasa Ahmadia in Bihar’s Madhubani district. Rahmani, a 54-year-old postgraduate in botany, is pro-reform and looks at modernization as crucial to the progress of the community at large. He already teaches science at the madrasa of his own accord, but was banking on the policy change to get state-of-the-art infrastructure and faculty for his students.

For 23 years, Rahmani has managed to cope with the challenge of teaching science along with the religious teaching of the Quran with rudimentary facilities. But in September, when the human resources development ministry proposed Rahmani’s name with three others as the country’s best Urdu teachers for the President’s medal, he joined the emerging chorus from the seminaries to be heard. The discontent is not just due to the dilemma over integrating modern subjects with religious texts; it pertains to the very rudimentary, day-to-day needs of the madrasas.

One computer has been procured to impart vocational training to children. But apart from that, Rahmani has just a few pieces of chalk and a blackboard. Typically, he says, the hurdles are basic—such as how to show his students chemical reactions or the dynamics of a spring balance as listed in textbooks. “Unless your students see the chemicals turning yellow, blue or red in a beaker, how much fun can they have studying science?”

Rahmani’s love for science and the joy of teaching, despite the resource crunch, keep him going. Back in 1976, when Rahmani had just joined the madrasa after his postgraduation at a local college in Madhubani, he had gone on a door-to-door campaign to get children to attend the school. “There was much resistance and disbelief,” he recalls.

Enrolment has risen to 500 over the years, he says. Since 2003, the pass percentage has also gone up steadily. “In the beginning, it was a dismal 20-30%. Now, 80-90% of children pass out with good marks,” he adds.

Pay, faculty problems

With enhanced enrolment, what remains dismal is the salaries paid to madrasa teachers, says Maulana Shafiqur Rahman, superintendent of the Deorail Madrasa in Assam, who was recognized as the best Urdu teacher of the year last month along with Rahmani. “Worse, the salaries never come on time.”

In Bihar, madrasa teachers get Rs2,000-3,800, while a recent hike in dearness allowance raised the salary of principals in seminaries aided by or affiliated to the state madrasa board to about Rs11,000 a month.

In Assam, apart from the meagre pay, there is an acute shortage of teachers, especially for science. The last appointment of teachers happened in 1999. “Thousands of teaching posts have been lying vacant since then. The government is neglecting minority education in the state, even as education standards keep falling,” says Rahman.

Vacant faculty positions have now become a challenge for these seminaries, says Rahmani, who has been aggressively trying to hire teachers for science and mathematics for the last two years. “For years, we have not taught modern subjects at the seminaries. Hence, there are no teachers good enough to be hired,” he says.

Much of this could be taken care of by the setting up of the national board under the Madrasa Modernisation Scheme.

Question marks

But questions about the scheme have been raised even by those who don’t necessarily fear its secular impact.

A section of detractors fears the introduction of a separate board for madrasas would alienate the Muslim community. “Ideally, there should be some provision in the existing education boards,” says Salim Akhtar Bellali, principal of Faazil Madrasa in Darbhanga, Bihar.

The agenda for reforming madrasas is also being linked with the question of countering “terrorism”, says Rahman.

In Assam, where his seminary imparts education to 350 Muslim children from economically backward sections, classes are often interrupted by police carrying out security checks. “We have computers, we have books in English, we have students who can converse in English—but no militants. The allegation that madrasas breed militants is completely baseless,” he says.

The government reserves the power to appoint the panel that would run the board, remove any member, and monitor the way funds are used. This provision has also caused the Muslim community to accuse the government of trying to control madrasas.

“The hurry with which the government is trying to implement things, it appears that it wants to regulate madrasas,” says Khalid Hamidi, professor of Arabic at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “A madrasa means Islamic school. Universities like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia recognize madrasa certificates. Then, what is the need for such modernization programmes?’’

Hamidi’s question relates partly to the concern that reforms may alter the “Islamic nature” of the madrasas, with some Muslims viewing the schools as an expression of identity rather than as seminaries where a young generation can be trained to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Earlier published in Mint.

Delhi’s Belly | An equal music

Behind a tall, wrought-iron gate with sparse black paint peeling, the 300-year-old Anglo-Arabic Senior Secondary School at Ajmeri Gate, Delhi, is in the throes of change.

Past the numerous sandstone arches that adorn its façade, a large courtyard spreads into corridors and rooms where dozens of masons are busy restoring the heritage building. A library damaged by last year’s rain has been fixed with fresh white paint and teak-wood doors. The green Kota stone floor of an auditorium, complete with carpeted stage, glistens. Next to the din of renovation, a small, crowded chamber has anxious parents, including women in black veils, exchanging notes on admission fees and dates. As the classes disperse for lunch, a boy tells a girl, “You have been chosen class monitor.” Before the girl can react, he mocks, “In your dream!” They sprint and disappear.

This turn of affairs, principal M. Wasim Ahmad says, is unprecedented. Just last month, the school that admitted only boys until last year, prepared to admit a fresh group of girls as its first batch graduated. With more applications from girls piling up at the admission counters, and several from the first batch marking their presence in its classrooms, the male bastion is crumbling.

While his class XII colleagues nod in chorus, Daraksha says studying with boys makes her two younger sisters and her competitive—they were the first three girls admitted to the school.

 

“Girls have exhibited their keenness to study further. They are smart, in fact smarter than we expected, and absolute go-getters,” says Faiza Nissar Ali, who was the first female teacher to join the school, in 2006.

 

The impact is clearly visible. Girls have done better than boys in the internal exams in every stream other than science; Ali tries to explain this. The school lowered its cut-off for admission to the science stream last year to attract more girls. “This means that girls with average marks were also admitted, which is why they couldn’t cope with the science subjects.”

The aggression, however, is slowly giving way to cooperation in classrooms, says Saba Rehman, who teaches English. “The acceptance was slow to come by but the boys are now working with girls in class projects. Being in a class together fosters learning for both boys and girls and helps them deal with situations in rational ways,” Rehman adds.

At lunch, girls and boys go their different ways

Nine more women were appointed last year. As the school opened up, employees like Ali and Rehman, who had spent seven years at the school without a staff room or toilets for women, discovered the side benefits: They got the basic amenities.

Change is coming, but slowly, to the school which has produced students like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the eminent educationist and founder of Aligarh Muslim University; Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister; and Mirza Nasir-ud-din Masood, an Indian hockey Olympian.

During lunch break, there is a strict demarcation of spaces for boys and girls. Boys crowd the canteen. There is a separate counter in a corner for girls, but food is served to them in their common room. In the classrooms, boys and girls sit in separate rows. As the school closes, girls are asked to leave 5 minutes before the boys to ensure “safe passage”.

Maqsood Ahmed, a biology teacher, suggests a separate shift for girls instead of co-education. “It’s my suggestion, if you ask,’’ he says, looking at Yasmin, who poses a question, almost rhetorically, “But then, what use will the co-education be?’’

This is the question Nazma Parveen asked herself last year. The widowed mother of Daraksha, Ramsha and Gulafsha, who lives in Ballimaran, couldn’t resist the school’s offer to waive fees and open the science stream to girls in classes XI and XII. But she says she didn’t sleep well for a month when her daughters started attending the school.

 

The class VI student says she will braid her hair until her school uniform—salwar-kameez with a mandatory headscarf—arrives.

This was first published in Mint.