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Demonising Madrasas is Insulting Freedom Fighters

– Abhay Kumar 


BJP Member of Parliament and the Union Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh is known for giving controversial statements. Recently he has claimed that madrasas and mosques pose a serious threat to security. According to media reports, the BJP leader said, “Bihar seems to be flooded by illegal (avaidh) madrasas and mosques (masajid). The situation is particularly grave in the areas bordering Nepal and Bangladesh.” 

Having made a wild allegation, he tried to intimidate people that “while the population of Muslims in the state is about 18 percent, these areas have a higher concentration. Moreover, there is a strong presence of the banned PFI across the state. So the situation poses a grave challenge to the country’s internal security”.

Afterwards, he began to criticise the JDU and the RJD-led Government in Bihar for appeasing the Muslim community and ignoring the threat of the mushrooming growth of “illegal” madrasas and mosques in the state. But the statement of Giriraj Singh has been brushed aside by the leaders of the RJD and the JDU and they have alleged him of playing a communal card. 

There may be multiple reasons why Giriraj Singh has been involved in the issue of madrasas and mosques. By claiming that madrasas and mosques have been illegally constructed, he is plating to the gallery of the party’s hard-core supporters. Sources suggest that the party may deny him a ticket in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. Fearing his exclusion, he has made such a statement to consolidate his position as a fire-brand leader of the state BJP.

Giriraj Singh is aware of the fact that the myth of the population rise of Muslims has gone deep inside the psyche of a section of the majority community with the help of continuous propaganda. By raising such an issue, he is trying to attract media attention for himself and the party. Such a communal card may work to counter the “re-assertion” of Mandal politics in the state.

Under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, the Bihar government has recently conducted a caste survey in the state. Based on the findings of the survey report, the Bihar assembly adopted a unanimous resolution to increase the quota for the marginalised castes to 65 percent. Although the opposition BJP supported the resolution for the quota increase, the upper caste lobby within the BJP was not happy with the party’s decision. It believes the quota increase would be detrimental to the “dwindling hold on the state politics”. A section of the upper caste leadership has always demanded that the BJP should promote upper caste leaders in the state, rather than using the mascot of Nitish Kumar. After Nitish parted ways with the BJP, the same lobby is trying to strengthen the upper caste hold within the party.

But the top leadership of the BJP understands the compulsion of Bihar politics. In the state, the upper castes are numerically a minority and they alone cannot help the saffron party win elections. Therefore, the BJP is trying to maintain “a balance” in Bihar. While it has supported the quota increase to woo marginalised castes, it has often promoted firebrand leaders within the party who are capable of polarising voters on religious lines. Giriraj Singh is one of them and he is trying to do what the hardcore supporters may feel appeased. 

However, his statement may fetch the BJP some votes but it would strain the social fabric of Bihar. Such a statement is also historically wrong and it goes against the legacy of our freedom fighters. 

The act of linking madrasas with security threats and terrorism is a recent phenomenon. The act of demonising madrasas is a part of Islamophobic discourse. The writings of orientalist writers perhaps first systematically demonised Muslim rules in their education and culture and called Muslims essentially a religious community. 

The Orientalist authors created a false binary. For them, western society is based on the values of secularism, science, rationality and democracy, the Muslim society has an inherent bias against secularism, who are mired in “fanaticism” and “bigotry”. 

However, the war on terror discourse after the end of the Cold War has put fuel to Islamophobia discourse and it created a fear of madrasas. The demonization of madrasas is the continuation of the same Orientalist prejudice against Muslims.

Under the influence of Islamophobia, the madrasas were suspiciously looked at by both the right and unfortunately a section of the left. Such discourse was also used by majoritarian parties, such as the BJP, to polarise society on religious lines. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to power, the establishment launched a campaign against madrasas and wild charges were against madrasas. They were linked to “anti-national” activities, the way Giriraj Singh has not spoken. But the charges were never proven. However, such an anti-Muslim narrative is often invoked to target the minority community.

That is why, targeting madrasas or calling them a “den” of “anti-national” activities is an act of insulting our freedom fighters and forgetting our anti-colonial struggles. Historians have proved that the Khilafat Movement in the early 1920s shook the foundation of the mighty British Empire. Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and the Ulema of Deoband Seminary, millions of people turned against the British rule. 

It is a historical fact that the success of the Khilafat Movement turned out to be the result of the rock-solid alliance between the Congress party and the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. Formed in 1919, the organisation was an integral part of Darul Uloom Deoband. 

A large number of nationalist leaders, who worked with the Congress party, had their madrasa background, including the Deoband seminary that was set up in 1866. 

Apart from Gandhi, Dr Rajendra Prasad, the freedom fighter, the Congress leader and the first President of India, had intimate relations with madrasas. In his autobiography, Rajendra Prasad devoted the third chapter to fondly remembering his association with “Maulvi Saheb”, who “initiated” him “into the alphabet”. Prasad, the big Congress leader from Bihar, went to Maktab in his childhood where he learnt Persian. It was because of his Maulvi Saheb that Rajendra Prasad learnt to read Persian texts such as KarimaGulistanBostan, etc. Paying tribute to the Maulvi Saheb, Rajendra Prasad wrote in his autobiography, “The little Persian we learn goes entirely to this Maulvi’s credit. We had started liking him and we felt sorry to leave when we had to go to Chapra.” (Rajendra Prasad, An Autobiography, NBT, New Delhi, 2018, p. 8). 

History is witness to the fact that a large number of Hindu scholars went to madrasas for education. Learning Urdu, Arabic, and Persian and going to madrasas were open to all. Similarly, Muslim scholars also learnt AwadhiBraj Bhasha, Hindi and Sanskrit and went to the educational centres run by Hindu teachers.

The composite culture of India and the historical reality are witness to the fact that madrasas were never called a place for breeding “anti-Hindu” or “anti-national” feelings, the way Giriraj Singh has alleged.

In his same statement, Giriraj Singh called for imparting science to Muslim students and implied that they should desist from going to madrasas. A similar statement was also given by the BJP chief minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma. In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a famous statement that he would like to see “Muslim Youth hold the Quran in one hand and have a computer in other”. But the ground reality exposes the intentions of the BJP leaders.

For example, several news reports came from Uttar Pradesh where the madrasa teachers, who were recruited to impart computer education and science along with English, were not paid a salary by the government for a long time. 

Similarly, the Modi Government rolled back the Maulana Azad scholarship for minorities, even though Muslim youth are underrepresented in higher education. Worse still, the BJP government continues to cut the budget for minority education and their welfare schemes. 

Recently the BJP has invoked the ‘Pasmanda’ Muslim issue and tried to project itself as the biggest ‘champion’ of their rights. But such an act appears to be crocodile tears. Had it not been the case, the BJP governments would not have failed to give protection to the Muslims from the communal forces whose large population compromised Dalit and backward caste Muslims. The saffron party has also failed to take concrete steps to address their social and economic backwardness. 

The BJP, which raises the issues of the Pasmanda Muslims, have so far failed to give proportional representation to them. While it is at the forefront to point out how they are discriminated against by the upper caste Muslims, it has offered no concrete programmes to address their social and economic backwardness.

For example, the ‘Pasmanda’ Muslims are yet to get adequate seats in the assembly and Parliamentary elections from the BJP. Ali Anwar, the leader of Pasmanda Muslims, has rightly raised a question on the BJP’s intention to give justice to ‘Pasmanda’ Muslims by saying that Bilkis Bano was also a Pasmanda but why she had been denied justice. 

In his Bhopal meeting last summer, Prime Minister Modi raised the issue of ‘untouchability’ within the Muslim community but when the Supreme Court asked the Government to spell out its stand on giving SC status to Dalit and Christian Muslims, the Government spoke a different language by saying that caste does not exist in Islam to weaken the case for SC status to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. What could be a better example than this about speaking in forked tongues?

It appears that the statement of Giriraj Singh has less to do with historical facts and ground reality and more to do with fermenting communal polarisation. Amid this, the need of the hour is to maintain communal harmony and fight for social justice.

[Dr Abhay Kumar is a Delhi-based journalist. Email: debatingissues@gmail.com]


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