COMMENTARY

Towards a Typology of Madrasas in West Bengal
Nikhil Raymond Puri

state’s madrasa landscape. This article provides an elementary typology of madrasas in West Bengal, in turn, improving the legibility of the state’s modernisation efforts. Recognition-Seeking Madrasas

West Bengal is seen as a success story in the reform and modernisation of madrasas. What is the real picture in terms of the attitudes of and practices in the reforming and reluctant madrasas? What drives some madrasas to engage with reform of the syllabus and why are some others opposed?

Nikhil Raymond Puri (nikhilpuri@gmail.com) is a DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford, UK.

est Bengal is widely portrayed as a madrasa success story. Insofar as numerical indicators go, the state has managed to attract a significant number of madrasas to its modernisation scheme. As of 2011, its reformed-to-unreformed ratio was about 1:1.6 (601 reformed madrasas versus about 950 unreformed madrasas). The state can also boast of the extent to which its madrasas have been modernised. The 601 madrasas that benefit from the state support lay a heavy emphasis on secular subjects, following more or less the same curriculum as secular government schools. They also represent (through their student body) immense diversity of gender and religious affiliation. About 65% of students in these madrasas are girls, and 13% are nonMuslims.1 Much of the state’s success has been attributed to the financial incentives it makes available. In addition to state-sponsored teachers of secular subjects, madrasas partaking in West Bengal’s reform programmes are also given salaries for their religious teachers. But before highlighting the successes of West Bengal’s madrasa project, it is necessary to take a closer look at the
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West Bengal’s madrasas fall into three major categories. The first category consists of madrasas that are either unopposed to, or actively in pursuit of, recognition. Some madrasas model their curricula on that of the state’s recognised madrasas even before attaining recognition. By engaging in such acts of selfimposed modernisation, these madrasas try to convince the state of their determination, thereby hoping to expedite the recognition process. The Majerhat Pirdanga Bakhtiari Faizi Jalali Senior Madrasa in North 24 Parganas is a case in point. Established in 1980, this madrasa has voluntarily mimicked the state-imposed madrasa curriculum since its founding.2 A look at the subsequent evolution of the madrasa’s curriculum thus gives an indication of the extent to which the state has reformed the curricula of the (senior) madrasas under its jurisdiction.3 Initially, the madrasa’s curriculum, like that of the state, gave more weight to religious subjects. In 1989, the curriculum was modified, reducing the religious content, and introducing secular subjects such as science and geography. The 1,000-mark syllabus contained 350 marks of language study (150 marks Arabic, 100 marks Bengali,
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and 100 marks English); 200 marks for the study of science (100 marks mathematics, 50 marks physical sciences and 50 marks life sciences); 50 marks for Islamic history; 50 marks for geography; and 350 marks devoted to the study of Islamic texts (100 marks Tafsir (Quranic commentary), 100 marks Hadith (prophetic traditions), 50 marks Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), 50 marks Usool (rulings on, and interpretation of, Islamic jurisprudence and prophetic traditions), and 50 marks Faraid (inheritance law). In 1995, the syllabus was further diluted – in the case of this madrasa, voluntarily. Hundred marks of the Islamic texts were eliminated, and history was increased to 100 marks with the inclusion of 50 marks for modern history. In 2005, the Arabic component of the curriculum was reduced from 150 to 100 marks, leaving the overall religious component of the curriculum at just 350 out of 1,000 marks, excluding 100 marks for Arabic. While this gradual (but drastic) dilution of the once religion-heavy curriculum presents a major disincentive for many madrasas to opt for recognition, the Majerhat Pirdanga Bakhtiari Faizi Jalali Senior Madrasa voluntarily subjected itself to these changes in the hope of attaining recognition. This type of madrasa, which one may suitably call “recognition-seeking”, is not uncommon in West Bengal. The process of acquiring recognition involves a number of steps subsequent to the formal request. Once an application is submitted, the state inspects the madrasa to make sure it meets a number of prerequisites. These include requirements of syllabus, student strength, and infrastructure. But even when these minimum standards are met, the state is often slow in granting recognition. According to A K M Farhad, the recognition process can at times be characterised by red tape and nepotism.4 Knowing a politician or senior bureaucrat significantly brightens one’s prospects. Conversely, not having such connections could mean rejection in perpetuity. Thus, infrastructural inadequacies combined with inefficiency (on the part of the state) have often kept willing madrasas from obtaining recognition. But unappealing
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policies on the part of the state have also served to reduce the demand for recognition amongst recognition-seekers. Until 1997, the recognition process was quite straightforward. Recognition, once successfully obtained, led to immediate monetary rewards – initially in the form of modest financial support for the madrasa as a whole, and later, by way of salaries for its teachers. In 1997, however, the West Bengal state legislative assembly passed a bill whereby the teachers of a recognised madrasa became the responsibility of the state. A service commission was established to appoint teachers to madrasas through a centralised system. One reason why the Majerhat Pirdanga Bakhtiari Faizi Jalali Senior Madrasa is a senior one only in name is that the madrasa’s teachers fear being replaced by government-appointed substitutes. As Soharab Hossain, president of the West Bengal Board of Madrasah Education, explains, “an attempt is underway to make an additional 200 madrasas in West Bengal recognised. These madrasas are willing to accept the recognised curriculum but are not willing to let the Madrasah Service Commission choose their teachers”.5 Thus, the West Bengal School Service Commission Act of 1997 presents a critical juncture in the state’s madrasa reform efforts. Prior to its enactment, recognition-seeking madrasas were kept from obtaining recognition only by their own infrastructural shortcomings or the ineptitude of state officials. After 1997, however, madrasas formerly keen on accepting recognition were forced to recalibrate their position. Owing to the drastic shift in the nature (in qualitative terms) of support offered by the state, only one (senior) madrasa in West Bengal accepted recognition in the post1997 period. The unwillingness of (earlier recognition-ready) madrasas to accept recognition after 1997 stems from the increasingly aggressive and intrusive nature of the state’s efforts. Iman Ali, headmaster of the Aminpur Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Senior Madrasa, has strong views on this matter: “Many private madrasas are co-ed and follow the state-imposed syllabus”, says Ali, “but they still fail to get approval for recognition”. The reason
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for this refusal, Ali believes, is the government’s “allergy to senior madrasas”. Given the relatively significant (depending on one’s vantage point) theological component of the senior madrasas, “the government is much more willing to accept high madrasas”, where religion is present only in the highly reduced form of “Introduction to Islam”.6 ‘Opposed Madrasas’ The second category of madrasas in West Bengal consists of those elements that are fundamentally opposed to recognition, and can reasonably be called “opposed madrasas”. These khariji madrasas derive their very identity from the quality of existing and functioning outside the realm of government recognition. Mostly Deobandi, they are defined by a common ideology which precludes the possibility of accepting money from the state. But even within this category of madrasas, there exist different shades of opinion. Some opposed madrasas are willing to accept certain benefits deriving from recognition (such as the state’s acknowledgement of the legitimacy of a madrasa’s degree) without accepting recognition per se. Others are unwilling to display any thappa (stamp) that bears the state’s authority. The Jamia Milia Madinatul Uloom in Bardhaman belongs to the first type. Qazi Mohammad Yasin believes that “khariji madrasas are to be defined, not by their curricula (more or less theology), but by their determination to remain outside the boundaries of the government”.7 While this position ostensibly places Yasin amongst those wanting nothing to do with the state, he is more flexible. Though Yasin holds that “khariji madrasas are not allowed (as a matter of principle) to accept money from the state”, he has actively sought state support of a different kind. Given its khariji status, students at Yasin’s madrasa do not receive degrees that are recognised by mainstream universities. Government madrasas, on the other hand, offer degrees that are considered equivalent to those of government-run secular schools, enabling their students to partake in higher education. In the hypothetical scenario where the state grants Yasin’s syllabus
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equivalence (to that of a mainstream school) without any semblance of “support”, Yasin is likely to accept unhesitatingly. Yasin’s opposition thus rests on a double standard. He entertains the prospect of extracting specific state-derived benefits, while simultaneously priding himself on his determination to function independently of the state. Another group of opposed madrasas, however, derives pride from remaining completely untainted by the state’s gaze. For them, any state support, be it financial or otherwise, is completely unacceptable. Quari Fazlur Rahman of the Darul Quran Madrasa Azmatia represents this type of opposed madrasa. The thought of seeking recognition has neither occurred to Rahman in the past, nor is it likely to cross his mind in the future. With great pride he announces his position: “We do not leave the (khariji) boundary within which we have been operating. It has been this way for a hundred years”.8 Faqrul Islam Qasmi of the Jamia Qasim Ul Uloom is also resolutely opposed to recognition by the state. Qasmi conveys his position quite simply: “The path towards recognition is unknown to me. All I know is this (the khariji way)”.9 What do the attitudes exhibited by the opposed madrasa portend for the state’s efforts at modernisation? The group, exemplified by Quari Fazlur Rahman and Faqrul Islam Qasmi, shows no signs of willingness to change. This madrasa is unlikely to move in any domain, instead representing the “uncompromising opposition”,

the end of the recognition continuum. The first type of opposed madrasa shows more selectivity. Though firm in its opposition to recognition, this madrasa does acknowledge certain domains in which its opposition to state support may be relaxed. Selectively-opposed madrasas thus exhibit rigid opposition in some areas, and flexibility in others. Both types of opposed madrasa, however, firmly oppose the acceptance of recognition. Fence-Sitting Madrasas The third category of madrasas in West Bengal is that of the “fence-sitters”. As the name suggests, “fence-sitters” consist of indecisive elements that remain on the fence because they could use the money (state support), but are unwilling to invite certain consequences associated with recognition (such as the dilution of their syllabi). This group of madrasas exhibits a willingness to become sarkari subject to certain conditions, and may jump to the recognised side of the fence as and when the state alters the terms of its engagement. These schools teach primarily deeni (religious) subjects and do not give much weight to secular subjects like mathematics, English and science. It is important to recognise that most schools in this category would rather approach a Muslim-run non-governmental organisation (NGO) or other source of funding before approaching the state (if the necessity should arise). While these “fence-sitters” are legitimately khariji in

that they oppose the state’s support, they differ from opposed madrasas in one very important respect. Opposed madrasas derive part of their identity from their autonomy vis-à-vis the state. Fence-sitters, on the other hand, are only opposed to certain specific terms of the recognition package. As these terms change, so may the intensity of their opposition. Their willingness to accept state support depends on both the quantitative (magnitude of economic incentives) and qualitative (degree of interference by the state) nature of this support. A K Abdul Khaleque of the Al-Jamiatul Faruqiyah Azharul Uloom in Bardhaman is a fence-sitter. He has a clear sense of the advantages accompanying recognition, and would readily trade his current salary of Rs 3,000 per month for a government salary of Rs 18,000 per month. Before doing so, however, he wants an assurance that his acceptance of state support will not lead to the dilution of his syllabus. “We want the benefits of recognition”, says Khaleque, “but not by selling our beliefs”.10 Mohammad Shahidul Qadri of the Madrasa Hussainiya Ghausiya is also discerning of what lies across the fence. Like Khaleque, he is willing to cross the fence if it means he can enjoy financial support without having to endure interference. “If the madrasa modernisation programme in West Bengal functioned more as it does in other states,” says Qadri, “I would be inclined to accept recognition”.11

REVIEW OF URBAN AFFAIRS
July 28, 2012
Making Ends Meet: Youth Enterprise at the Rural-Urban Intersections Subaltern Urbanisation in India Rejuvenating India’s Small Towns The ‘North-East’ Map of Delhi Protesting Publics in Indian Cities: The 2006 Sealing Drive and Delhi’s Traders Enumerating the Semi-Visible: The Politics of Regularising Delhi’s Unauthorised Colonies – Stephen Young, Craig Jeffrey – Eric Denis, Partha Mukhopadhyay, Marie-Hélène Zérah – Kalpana Sharma – Duncan McDuie-Ra – Diya Mehra – Anna Zimmer

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these madrasas present ideal candidates Locating the Dividing Line In order to establish the dividing line for recognition. Many, though not all, of between khariji and sarkari madrasas, it West Bengal’s 601 recognised madrasas is necessary to locate the fence on which correspond to this type. The remaining the fence-sitters are perched. This can recognised madrasas would qualify as be done by determining the common fence-sitters today, but applied for state denominator defining all madrasas that support at a time when recognition had refuse recognition. As is evident from a very different meaning. Such situations the preceding discussion, the opposition where recognition-seekers by yesterday’s of khariji madrasas to recognition is standards become “would be” fence-sitters driven by a number of factors, each of by today’s standards suggest that often which seems sufficient (but not neces- times a madrasa’s concerns are shaped sary). Some heads of madrasas are un- by events following the recognition deciwilling to affiliate with a curriculum sion. In the 1970s, for instance, the govthat runs counter to their imaan (beliefs), ernment supported madrasas without others are additionally hesitant to re- modifying the contents of their syllabi. ceive money from the state, and yet oth- Naturally, “dilution of the syllabus” was ers are unwilling to bear the stamp of a concern unknown to many madrasas the state on their sleeve. But at any given that accepted recognition at the time.12 time, only one such concern is shared by Amongst those madrasas that are opall khariji madrasas (since those madra- posed to recognition, the uncompromissas that do not share this concern are ex- ingly-opposed madrasas represent the pected to cross the fence and accept rec- other extreme of the madrasa landscape. ognition). This common concern defines They thrive on their khariji status and the fence. Though this fence may be resist every opportunity to partake in characterised by periods of relative stasis, state-initiated modernisation. The other it is equally capable of movement in species in the opposed category is the response to changes in the terms of the selectively-opposed madrasa. It shows no state’s support. For most of West Bengal’s willingness to accept recognition per se, history in madrasa modernisation, the but is still open to the possibility of fence has moved gently as the conse- obtaining specific benefits accomquences of accepting recognition evolved panying recognition. The differences be(in consonance with the gradual dilution tween the fence-sitter and the selectivelyof the senior madrasas’ religious curric- opposed madrasa, though subtle, are ulum). The critical juncture presented important. The fence-sitter is open to in 1997, on the other hand, induced a the prospect of accepting recognition, more noticeable shift in the fence. The but momentarily exhibits discontent increased intrusiveness of the state in with its details. The selectively-opposed 1997 led to a displacement of the common madrasa, on the other hand, is blind to concern (amongst khariji madrasas) the option of recognition. It may seek from “dilution of the Figure: Classification of Madrasas in West Bengal The fence syllabus” to “a loss of say in teacher selec1: Recognition-seekers 3: Fence-sitters 2b: Uncompromisingly opposed tion”. This displaceRecognised Madrasas Khariji Madrasas ment was in turn ac2a: Selectively opposed companied by a leftward shift of the fence (with respect to benefits that form part of the state’s recits position in the figure). ognition package, but it does so upholding its “independent” status and avoidConclusions ing the “undesirable” prefix – “sarkari”. To summarise, the madrasa landscape The fence-sitter’s position is: “I would acin West Bengal looks very much like the cept recognition if so and so conditions one depicted in the figure. Recognition- were satisfied”. The selectively-opposed seeking madrasas constitute one end of madrasa sees less need for exchange: “I the spectrum. Voluntarily diluting their definitely will not accept recognition, curricula to mirror that of the state, but the state ought to provide such
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and such regardless – as a right rather than a reward”.13 While opposing madrasas are characterised by immobility, there is more movement between the other two types of madrasas – fence-sitters and recognitionseekers. This movement depends on the position of the fence. A leftward shift of the fence (signifying an increasingly intrusive recognition package) will likely cause more recognition-seekers to join the club of fence-sitters. Similarly, a rightward shift of the fence (representing more amenable terms of support) will prompt many fence-sitters to accept recognition. The state needs to appreciate this context and position the fence accordingly. Any respectable standard of “success” demands that the modernisation scheme is able to absorb willing entrants while simultaneously attracting at least some madrasas that are not already modern.
Notes
1 Soharab Hossain (president, West Bengal Board of Madrasah Education, Kolkata), interviewed by author on 20 July 2009. 2 Hossain Mohammad Ebrahim Laskar and Mohammad Khabir Hossain (teachers, Majerhat Pirdanga Bakhtiari Faizi Jalali Senior Madrasa, North 24 Parganas), interviewed by author, on 1 October 2009. 3 West Bengal’s reformed madrasas can be classified under three categories according to grade level and religious character: junior high, high and senior madrasas. Amongst these, senior madrasas are most committed (in terms of curriculum content) to religious instruction. 4 A K M Farhad (teacher, Ghutiarisharif SSGMNS Senior Madrasa, South 24 Parganas), interviewed by author, 27 August 2009. 5 Interviewed by author, 20 July 2009. 6 Iman Ali (headmaster, Aminpur Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Senior Madrasa, North 24 Parganas), interviewed by author, 1 October 2009. 7 Interviewed by author, 18 August 2009. 8 Interviewed by author, 3 October 2009. 9 Interviewed by author, 30 September 2009. 10 A K Abdul Khaleque (headmaster, Al-Jamiatul Faruqiyah Azharul Uloom, Bardhaman), interviewed by author, 18 August 2009. 11 Interviewed by author, 17 August. 12 The same cannot be said of the Service Commission legislation passed in 1997 (which gives the state control over teacher appointment in the madrasa) since it only applies to madrasas accepting recognition after its enactment. 13 Individuals running madrasas of the selectivelyopposed type hold the view that the state should provide them certain benefits unconditionally. For instance, Qazi Mohammad Yasin suggests that acceptance of his madrasa’s degree (by universities) should not be contingent on his acceptance of recognition. Rather, he considers this “benefit” a baseline provision for which all educational institutions (whether governmental or private, religious or secular) should qualify.

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