The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling government, has derecognized madrasas (Islamic seminaries) as formal schools in the BJP-run state of Maharashtra if they don’t teach subjects like English, math, science, and social science.
This comes despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to grant $15.7 million towards madrasa modernization in 2014.
State authorities say the move is a way to bring madrasa students into mainstream formal education. They plan to conduct a survey on July 4 to identify out-of-school children as a result of the new measure.
“Our only aim behind doing this is to ensure that every child of the [Muslim] minority community gets a chance to learn and come into the mainstream, get good paying jobs and have a prosperous future," State minorities affairs minister Eknath Khadse said, The Times of India reported.
Authorities said they would be happy to fund madrasas and provide teaching staff to deliver students formal education.
The government said that of a total 1,890 registered madrasas in the state, 550 agreed to teach the four prescribed subjects to students.
"Madrasas are giving students education on religion and not giving them formal education. Our Constitution says every child has the right to take formal education, which madrasas do not provide," Khadse said, according to The Times of India.
"It is ill-designed and ill-timed, I don't know why they are doing it," said Kamal Farooqui of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. Madrasas, he said, are part of formal education and their students get direct admission to universities.
For some, the move also raised questions about students at Hindu institutions that focus on Vedic (Hindu) studies. Would these students also be considered out-of-school under similar circumstances, asked Asaduddin Owaisi, president of All India Council of the Union of Muslims.
Sanjay Nirupam, a spokesperson for the opposition Congress party, called the move unconstitutional, according to The Times of India. “No child should be discriminated along religious lines,” Nirupman said. “We are going to take the issue in the state assembly.”
The Huffington Post reported that public interest litigation challenging the derecognition has been filed at the Bombay High Court.
The ruling BJP government has, in several instances, been accused of perpetuating religious polarization in India – although there is often discord within the party between hard-liners and those worried about being seen on the wrong side of India’s secular constitution.
Hindus comprise about 78 percent of the total Indian population and Muslims about 15 percent.
As part of a campaign against “love jihads” – the supposed practice of Muslims seducing Hindu girls to convert them to Islam – assailants connected to right wing political parties, including the BJP, have stopped weddings between interfaith couples and forced married women to desert their Muslim husbands and marry Hindus instead, according to a 2014 opinion piece in The New York Times.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group that is the BJP’s ideological wing, drove “Ghar Wapsi," a campaign to reconvert people to Hinduism – based on claims Muslims and Christians forced Hindus to convert to their religions for centuries.
Some converts reported being tricked into conversion ceremonies with promises of economic benefits, according to The New York Times.
“We will bring back those who have lost their way,” said Mohan Bhagwat, leader of the RSS.
“What is the meaning of this ‘homecoming’? We are already in our home,” said Abraham Varghese, a Christian Indian, reported Al Jazeera.