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A critique of the article “Education for Muslims needs a little self-help” by S.S.Aiyar

By Javeed Mirza

Mr. Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, the writer of the article “ Education for Muslims needs a little self-help” makes a valid point … namely the need for the Muslim community to build strong educational institutions on their own, like the Christian educational institutions that have earned recognition and credibility, and not to be dependent on govt. scholarships for their educational growth.

The simplistic article has its flaws and raises some important issues:

a) It totally neglects the historical narrative of the Muslim educational backwardness. This is important, as it allows its comprehension from a wider angle and puts it in an overall perspective. The educational backwardness is a declining trajectory spread over many centuries, prior to Independence and accelerated after Independence. The Muslim elites stand during the Khilafat period of refusing to embrace printing technology, resulted in the West using printed books to spread education while the Muslim masses remained stuck in illiteracy. The Western renaissance borrowed from the developed works of the Muslim scientists of the time and built on it and took it forward. The Muslim rulers remained content with their riches and Epicurean living and had no reason to spread the education to the masses. The illiterates were any day seen as more manageable than the literate (and conscious masses). In India (and other parts of the global order) Feudalism existed during this period and under the many rajahs that ruled the country, servile obedience was the rule, and reasoning and questioning were decried. Sticking to educational backwardness of the masses was its preferred option. However, the exigencies of running the state by the rajahs and the British raj, demanded education be imparted so that literate clerks could be produced who could run the country for them. With this need, doors were opened to education. The British and Europeans held the notion of Caucasian superiority over natives (Orientalism) and it was the white man’s burden to rule over the natives and help get rid of their uncouth customs (Sati, child-marriage, human sacrifice etc.). The missionaries, an essential component of Colonial rule, set about doing this through their educational institutions. The schools and convents served multipurpose…. nurturing a clerk oriented educated elite, spreading Christianity and instituting reforms of native practices. Western education had been in existence for many centuries prior to this and had developed a sophistication that helped the Christian schools flourish. The Muslim educational trajectory was not only impeded by the feudal ruler’s reluctance to introduce education, but it was also obstructed by the contrived British policy of keeping the Muslim at bay. The 1857 war of Independence against the British had put the Muslim in the spotlight and made him as the British nemesis. It was in Great Britain’s interest to keep the Muslim and Hindus at loggerhead and subjugated. The Muslim was a more radical opponent and his subjugation was more desirable. It was during this period of early twentieth century that the valiant effort by Sir Syed and his colleagues opened a window of opportunity for education of Muslim middle class at Aligarh Muslim University. The origin of the Indian Muslim’s modern education is less than a century old. A good section of the educated Muslim upper and middle class living in India sided with the proponents of Pakistan and left for Pakistan. The Muslim elite leftover in India became defensive and ostracized. Even though the Indian Muslim was predominantly poor, he was denied the same opportunities that were opened for his compatriots through means of Reservation enshrined in the constitution of the Indian republic. His educational status gradually eroded and today it is recognized as being at the lowest level, with the Muslim girl being on the lowest educational tier of all communities in the country…

b) The article downplays the issue of Funding of Education: Mr Aiyar castigates Mr Owaisi for harping on scholarships as a means of Muslim educational growth while Not recognizing the crucial role of Educational funding. The SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) outlined by the UN seeks an allocation of 7% of a nations GDP for Education. Most European countries as well as developed and progressive countries (South Korea,Taiwan, Japan, China, Cuba etc.) have apportioned this share for Education and have achieved 100% literacy as well as high economic growth. India’s provision of the educational budget is around 3% and a good proportion of this is given to the favored elite institutions like the IIT’S, REC’s and IIM’s. The quality of basic education remains at a low level. Ingrained in this allocation are sectarian and discriminatory factors like …caste based society dominated by the Brahmin elite does not prioritize the education of the Poor and hence the shortage of funding … it discriminates against the Muslim minority denying it Reservation and funding (in proportion to its population).

c) Mr Aiyar makes a pertinent point of the availability of resources in the form of Wakf properties and its non-usage by the Muslim community for its educational advancement. This topic does need an introspection by the Muslim community. The Wakf properties do exist but are managed by the Govt. Many recommendations to the govt. by the community leaders have been ignored. The properties are controlled and manipulated by the State and Central govts. and the community has little control over them. The community’s state of political impotence and economic evisceration gives no scope for the utilization of the wakf property. It is used as a pawn and serves the interests of the ruling elite and its corrupt cronies. A Muslim political movement geared for the control of its Wakf properties is needed before the question of its utilization can be broached.

d) The Issue with Mr. Owaisi and many other Muslim leaders is that the leaders do not have the interests of the Muslim poor at heart. A track record of their work and their organization clearly disproves their avowed service to the community. They are content with verbal talk and sloganeering. It serves their interests of keeping themselves in the limelight and as vocal champions. It delivers them the votes that they seek but does not deliver concrete help to the constituency voters that they seek to espouse. They exist as part of the problem besetting the community. They are a decadent lot. Only a new visionary and dedicated leadership with genuine people’s interest can get the community out of its educational, economic and political morass.


The author can be reached at javeed.mirza@gmail.com

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