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What quota if all are equal?
Islam does not allow for distinctions within the community which is referred to as a biradri or brotherhood of equals. How can then the Muslim demand for reserved jobs and seats in educational institutions be met by giving them a quota within caste-based quotas? This inherent flaw in the solution offered by Salman Khurshid merits a closer look and debate
nion Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid has said that reservation for Muslims will be adjusted within the OBC quota. Is this, however, not un-Islamic? Prof M Mujeeb in his book Indian Muslims has stated that Muslims are a biradri or brotherhood. The community is a political as well as a religious society. Both these aspects have been regarded as inseparable because Islamic teaching insists upon the integration of the two faces of life. It ordains that the religious and the worldly life should be organised on the basis of the same values, that equality before god should be given expression in the form of legal and political equality. Evidently, Muslims cannot be divided into castes, some of whom can then share something that is meant for a Yadav or a Kurmi or a Nai or a Dhobi or a Kumhar et al. By now there are any number from these castes or professions who have become so prosperous that they would be embarrassed by even a hint of reservation. If the OBC were categorised by their vocation, as claimed by Mr Kamal Faruqi (Delhi Head of the Personal Law Board, in a recently given interview on TV) a Brahmin who happens to be a tailor or a barber or a dhobi or a potter, would get the benefit of reservation? I knew several Muslim families in the Matiaburz locality of Kolkata who were Jatav before they converted. Would they be entitled to a share in the quota meant for Scheduled Castes? The Mandal Commission as well as the Bakshi Panch of Gujarat have stressed social backwardness as a criterion for being an OBC. Surely, in the biradri no Muslim is socially lower than any other. If it was otherwise, the Quran would have been violated especially Sura XXI, Ayat 92 which reads: Verily, this Brotherhood of yours is a single Brotherhood. (The Quran explained by A Yusuf Ali). In any case, the long experience of Scheduled Castes reservation has PRAFULL GORADIA
shown that the average Dalit does not benefit; only the creamy layer does. Yet the leaders want reservation for Muslims. The Mandal Commission also made educational backwardness as a criterion. Literacy, the percentage of matriculation passed as well as the proportion of school dropouts as yardsticks of backwardness. If a group of kshatriyas happens not to pass matriculation and drops out from school,
would it qualify for backwardness? These facts lead one to suspect that the Khurshid game plan is political, not social and in line with the strategy described by Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Bengal Premier in 1946. In his letter dated September 10, 1947 addressed to Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman (Pathway to Pakistan) who succeeded Mohammed Ali Jinnah as the Muslim League president, he proposed that
the community should continue to live in the best Islamic tradition connected with the League and holding fast to the twonation theory. “In this alternative we shall have to be very strong and disciplined and must be ready to undergo sacrifices and must look to Pakistan for support and protection. The Muslims should form themselves into strong pockets. It is politically desirable as well as necessary for survival
and also culturally desirable.” He went on to say that Pakistan has provided a homeland for the Muslims living in the majority areas, but not a homeland for the Muslims of India. Evidently, reservations are a part of the grand strategy of separatism. Separatism was a theme song as early as 1906 when Sir Aga Khan and his 35-member delegation to Viceroy Minto sought separate elec-
torates, reservation in jobs and establishment of a Muslim university. In the course of a century, Muslim universities have been founded, not only Jamia Millia Islamia but also one each at Murshidabad, Kishenganj, Ajmer, Bengaluru. Mallapuram and Patna are also in the queue. The consistency in the design for separatism is admirable. A separate Central Board for Madarsas on the lines of CBSE cannot improve the quality of learning but it would ensure a separate curriculum. Darul Qazas or Sharia’h courts, which are already operating, are a parallel judiciary and clearly separate. The personal laws for the community are also separate and based on the sharia’h. Yet all other Islamic laws, including punishment for crimes, are ignored. Muslims readily fall in line with the Indian Penal Code and all other civil laws out of expedience. As if the string of Muslim universities, in existence as well as being set up, are not sufficient, the Government has been persuaded to declare Muslim concentration districts, presumably to serve as Islamic island camps. In order to appease his votebank the Prime Minister has repeatedly declared ‘Muslims first’ as his policy. As if the National Minorities Commission was not sufficient, the Government was persuaded to have a Ministry for Minorities Affairs and the Minister has consistently been a Muslim, not a Christian, a Parsi or a Sikh. Prof Mujeeb has gone out of his way to emphasise that the Muslim community is at once political and religious; these two aspects are inseparable. To quote him: “The Indian Muslims have regarded themselves as a community, and primarily a religious community. In theory, if not always in fact, their judgement in regard to beliefs, political policies, social customs and the way of life generally has been influenced by a concern to act as strictly as possible in accordance with the teachings of Islam.”
The lost history of Lumbini
Muslim invaders treated Buddhists as infidels and attacked their places of worship. They razed every single Buddhist temple they encountered, burnt libraries and killed monks. This is why we cannot find Buddhist structures in India, except a few stupas, and why Lumbini has been lost
uddhism once upon a time prevaBAD. Manywastill about thein4th centulent in India ry historians, both India and abroad, have implied that it nearly totally disappeared from India, because it was slowly ‘swallowed’ back by Hinduism at the hands of spiteful Brahmins. Others have however pointed out that if Hinduism resisted the Muslim onslaught thanks to its Kshatriyas — the Rajputs, Marathas and Sikhs — Buddhism, because it made non-violence an uncompromising dogma, was literally wiped-off the face of India in a few centuries, as it refused to oppose any resistance. For the Muslim soldiers, Buddhists, who adored statues and did not believe in Allah, were as much infidels as the Hindus, and they razed every single Buddhist temple (and also Jain temples, as the ruins below Fathepur Sikri have proved) they encountered, burnt all the precious libraries and killed tens of thousands of monks, without encountering any opposition. This is why you cannot find a single trace of Buddhist structures today in India, save for a few stupas, which were too cumbersome to be destroyed. The history of the Islamic onslaught on Buddhism in India should be rewritten. In 1193 CE, for instance, the wonderful Nalanda University was razed to the ground by Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turkish Muslim invader on his way to conquer Bengal. He looted and burned the monastery, and killed hundreds or even thousands of monks. The shock of this event lives on in local cultural memory: The three libraries of Nalanda — with books like the ones famous travellers famous Xuanzang and Yi Jing carried back to China —were so large that they smouldered for six long months. But most interesting is the history of Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, which is one of the four holy places of Buddhism. Lumbini is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas in modern Nepal. In Buddha’s time, Lumbini was a beautiful garden full of green and shady sal trees. The garden and its tranquil environs were owned by both the Sandyas and the Kolias clans. King Suddhodana, father of Gautama Buddha, was of the Shakya dynasty belonging to the Kshatriya or the warrior caste. In 249 BC, when the Emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini, it was a flourishing village. Ashoka constructed discovered the great Ashoka pillar while wandering about the foothills of the Churia range. Further exploration and excavation of the surrounding area revealed the existence of a brick temple and a sandstone sculpture within the temple itself, which depicts the scenes of Buddha’s birth. But there was great damage, which Feuhrer could not explain, except speculate that the place was once ransacked. Historian Bhuban Lal Pradhan believes that it was Sikandar Lodi (14891517 AD) and Aurangzeb (1668-1701 AD) who were mainly responsible for the ravage and subsequent desertion of the Lumbini and Kapilavastu regions. Nepalese rulers were helpless and even Mukund Sena (1782-93 AD), who ruled the region from Palpa, could do nothing to recover the religious glory of the site and the result was that this holy place was lost in the dense forest that grew over it. Later the name of Lumbini gradually changed to Rummindei and then to Rupandehi, the present name of the district. Since Feuhrer’s discovery, several excavations have been conducted and a large number of ancient relics have been
four stupas and a stone pillar with a figure of a horse on top. The stone pillar bears an inscription which, in English translation, runs as follows: “King Piyadasi (Ashoka), beloved of devas, in the 20 year of the coronation, himself made a royal
visit, Buddha Sakyamuni having been born here, a stone railing was built and a stone pillar erected to the Bhagavan”. Lumbini then remained neglected and forgotten for centuries. But in 1895, Feuhrer, a famous German archaeologist,
brought to light which reveal that Lumbini was an important place of Buddhist pilgrimage even during the time of the Mauryas. Now China is leading a project worth $3 billion to transform the small town into a premier place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from around the world. Little Lumbini will have an airport, highway, hotels, convention centre, temples and a Buddhist university. It’s not all about philanthropy, but also to undermine the Dalai Lama’s influence in South Asia. Romila Thapar, India’s most respected historian, believes that because Buddhism challenged the very structure of the caste system, it was not liked by the upper castes who did not let it flourish. She also points a finger at the “policy of assimilation” of Hinduism, such as stating that Buddha is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. But Romila Thapar is wrong. If it can be said that Adi Shankaracharya’s preaching the five-fold path of bhakti got the Buddhist converts back into Hinduism, the reality is that Buddhism in India was wiped out by Islamic invaders and that Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam, suffered greatly in the process.
The other side of Bengal’s madarsa experiment
Stories celebrating Bengal's madarsa modernisation efforts focus on high madarsas without acknowledging the State's incapacity to influence khariji madarsas, writes Nikhil Raymond Puri
est Bengal has received considerable media attention in the past few years for its efforts in modernising madarsas. Some commentators highlight the fact that several madarsas in the State have more Hindu than Muslim students. Other observers point to an ongoing experiment to gradually transform West Bengal’s madarsas into Englishmedium institutions. According to the president of the West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education, the body entrusted with all things madarsa-related in Bengal, “States such as Tripura, Bihar and Odisha have chosen to adopt the West Bengal model,” and teams from “Bangladesh and Pakistan have also shown interest.” Even critics attest to the progressive nature of the State’s madarsas, arguing that these institutions are ‘madarsas’ only in name. But these celebratory accounts tell just one side of the story. The West Bengal model appears effective because its severe shortcomings are never articulated. West Bengal’s madarsas constitute a diverse lot. Broadly speaking, the State has two types of madarsas: Recognised madarsas (supported by the Government) and independent madarsas (those that operate autonomously, without any
Government support). Each grouping can further be divided into sub-categories. Government-supported madarsas either exist as high madarsas (with a predominant focus on mainstream secular subjects), or as senior madarsas (focussing primarily on religious subjects). Independent madarsas in turn consist of two subcategories: Secular-minded madarsas that are committed (or at least open) to the prospect of accepting Government support, and religion-oriented khariji madarsas that want nothing to do with the State. When an independent madarsa becomes recognised, it surrenders its autonomy to the State, agrees to include mainstream subjects in its curriculum, and accepts Government funds for its day-today operations. For independent madarsas of the secular-minded variety, the decision to accept recognition is not a difficult one to make. Most of these institutions already teach the same mainstream secular subjects as high madarsas. In fact, many of them even adopt names such as ‘high madarsa’ and ‘junior high madarsa,’ emphasising their prior readiness to obtain recognition. Typically, individuals running these schools are only confronted with one
determinative question: Is it worth losing autonomy in exchange for financial support? That WBBME succeeds in recognising many such institutions is hardly surprising. All it needs to do is identify and recruit schools that already share its mindset, without engaging in any reform or modernisation. The story is quite different in the case of religion-oriented khariji madarsas. To the extent that they accept recognition, the only
realistic option for these institutions is to join the club of Government-run senior madarsas. Despite the fact that senior madarsas have a more religion-heavy syllabus than high madarsas, however, they do not meet the khariji standard of Islamic education. As the headmaster of one khariji madarsa points out, “there is a reason why nobody seeks graduates of government-run senior madarsas for religious advice or inspiration.” Moreover, the majority of khariji
madarsas are fundamentally opposed to the idea of affiliating with the State. Irrespective of size, wealth, or location, these institutions value their autonomy and are not easily distracted from the objective of religious propagation. To suggest that the State has struggled to recognise khariji madarsas is an understatement. According to data released by WBBME, the number of recognised madarsas in West Bengal increased from 508 in 2001 to 601 in 2011. But a closer look indicates that during this period WBBME only managed to add to its pool of high madarsas, while the number of senior madarsas remained unchanged at 102. This data tells us that in the last decade, the State hasn’t recognised even one khariji madarsa. In fact, the last time a khariji madarsa was recognised was on May 1, 1998, more than 13 years ago. To put this evidence in perspective, it is helpful to compare the number of Government-run senior madarsas in West Bengal with the number of khariji madarsas run by only one sect — the Deobandis. Except for Darjeeling, Deobandi khariji madarsas outnumber Government-run senior madarsas in each of West Bengal’s districts. If we look at West Bengal as a whole,
there are seven Deobandi khariji madarsas for every Government-run senior madarsa. Even if we (generously) assume that only the Deobandis (and no other sects) operate khariji madarsas, we see that the Government has control over no more than 14 per cent of the State’s religion-oriented madarsas. Stories celebrating West Bengal’s madarsa modernisation efforts focus disproportionately on examples of high madarsas, without acknowledging the State’s demonstrated incapacity to influence khariji madarsas. Surely WBBME has its achievements. The body runs 601 schools, and works very hard to educate more than four lakh children. Though it deserves kudos for its role as a successful education provider, it should not be mistaken as an engine of reform or modernisation. To recognise madarsas that say “please recognise me” is not an act of reform. It is an exercise in selecting institutions that need help, but no ideological reorientation. For WBBME to claim that it is successfully engaged in a reform project, it will have to demonstrate its ability to recognise those madarsas that say “please stay away”. (The writer is a DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford.)