By Anish Gupta and Aaleya Giri
11 July 2015
The recent decision of the Maharashtra Government to consider any religious institution which do not teach primary subjects such as English, Maths and Science as “non-schools” and children studying in them as “out of school” students has created controversy. Though the decision of the State Government is applicable to all other religious institutions, including the Vedic schools, the decision is being perceived as “politics of intimidation” by some. Curiously the way the news is presented before the public through most of the major English dailies as well as the regional newspapers adds a communal colour to it. The headline of TOI (July 2, 2015) reads, “Maharashtra Government to derecognise madrasa not teaching formal subjects”; “Madrasas flouting RTE Act non-Schools” (July 3, 2015); while India Today writes, “Madrasas derecognised as schools in BJP-ruled Maharashtra” (July 2, 2015). No doubt the media has an important role in shaping the mindset of the public and hence how certain news is flashed decides the general reaction and acceptance of the public.
Naturally people adopt the same conclusion as propagated by News channels that are in fact often misguided or misinformed. The communication gap between the policy makers and the public is often misused to create unnecessary and baseless agendas and controversies.
While the Government contends that it is necessary to bring these unrecognised religious schools into the mainstream under the provisions of the Right to Education Act, some leaders of the Muslim community and the Opposition parties claim that the decision of the Maharashtra Government is a preconceived ploy to enforce Hindu agenda.
Amidst the controversies, a few questions need to be addressed. Does the decision of sending children to unrecognised religious institutions conform to the RTE act? Do the religious institutions with heavily theological curriculum cater to the needs of the young generation? Will the religious institutions be transformed into an alternative to modern education which children so desperately need? What effects do the religious teachings have on the young minds? Who attends the religious institutions? Who are these people opposing the decision of Maharashtra Government and why? Do the critics of the Government’s decision themselves send their children to institutions of religious education instead of formal education?
Article 21-A and the RTE Act which came into effect on April 1, 2010, puts an obligation on the Government and local authorities to provide free education and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age group. School Education Minister Vinod Tawde’s statement that the institutions not following the national curriculum set by the RTE Act will be considered as non-schools is thus not against any religious sentiment.
What each child needs, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, is access to good mainstream education and mixed secular institutions where they can integrate with others in society, not in isolated confinement. What the religious institutions teach is as important as the milieu in which they exist and the culture they promote. Religious seminaries operate in a closed and isolated environment. As they remain inherently insular they tend to promote exclusion even if unconsciously. The embedded cultural ideologies of those who run these institutions have psychological effects on the young children studying there and they feel isolated and alienated. Hence misogyny and homophobia are widely prevalent in these religious institutions. Is this what we want the young generation to learn?
Besides, most religious institutions practise gender segregation. For instance co-education is officially banned in madrasas run by the Uttar Pradesh Board of Madrasa Education on grounds that it is against the “Sharia’’. But even in States where there is no such official ban, co-education is discouraged and there are separate girls’ madrasas where they are forced to follow strict “Islamic’’ practices. Why this discrimination at this tender age?
Professor Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion argues that forcing a religion on children without questioning its merits is as bad as ‘child abuse’. He further reinforces that the religious teaching imparted to children by parents and teachers in faith schools is a form of mental abuse. The teaching of religion in schools is equal to an indoctrination process. Dawkins considers the labels “Muslim child” or a “Catholic child” to be misappropriated. A young child cannot be considered developed enough to have such independent views on the cosmos and humanity’s place within it. According to Dawkins, religion not only subverts science, fosters fanaticism, encourages bigotry against homosexuals, and influences society in other negative ways but also works as a “divisive force” and as a “label for in-group/out-group enmity and vendetta”.
Dr. Marlene Winell, a human development consultant, explains how a child in a fundamentalist religious environment faces a powerful array of factors influencing indoctrination. The overtly religious parents want to pass on their faith to their children and not help them develop critical thinking to make a conscious decision about religion. They do not introduce their children to literature on all the religions of the world and visit temples, churches and mosques to help them decide.
Dr. Winell asserts, “The indoctrination of a child with immature cognitive abilities in the helpless context of a family is an abuse of power.” The child with no perspective and preference has to cooperate in order to survive. Dr. Winell further explains how brain receives and implants the messages while certain areas of brain development get repressed due to lack of stimulation. The child tries to appropriate and internalise the religious teaching without being able to comprehend or interpret it. The abject fear of terrifying consequences keeps haunting. As the child grows, the social forces enforce these dynamics and the circular reasoning continues, making the child feel highly disturbed. Hence a person always struggles to make the religion work because the doctrine always makes the individual at fault. As an adult the fear of hell crops up and cause panic attacks even if a person rationally rejects the doctrine. It becomes difficult to identify the emotion as “conditioning” instead of “truth”.
When a child is conditioned to believe that their religion is supreme and anyone who doesn’t follow it is a sinner and would go to hell, the child goes through psychological indoctrination. The harm these inculcated ideologies do to the mind of a child is unimaginable. As the child grows up s/he won’t even mind annihilating human beings who don’t belong to his/her community or adhere to the idea of converting who s/he loves. What else explains inhuman mass murder during communal riots? This religious supremacy is even reflected in inter-religion marriages.
Why it becomes so essential to convert religion, especially for women, to get married? When two people can fall in love despite belonging to different religions, post marriage why can’t they live happily while practising whatever religion they believe in?
It is said that a war of ideas is far more devastating than a war of bullets, as a bullet ends a life right there and then, but a misguided idea will wreak havoc for years and years to come. Does it not become the collective responsibility of the Government and humanity in general to be conscious and stop propagating such indoctrination?
Generally children belonging to the poor class who don’t have access to formal education attend these religious institutions. The poor and generally illiterate parents are easily tutored to believe the diktats of the religious leaders and agree to send their children to partake religious education. How convenient it becomes for the people with political vested interests to beguile these indoctrinated young minds.
Most of the developed countries, including the USA and the UK, ensure that parents send their children to school failing which they are subjected to legal punishment whereas in India, the responsibility to ensure free and compulsory education for all children lies on the State. Hence it becomes imperative for the Government to formulate best education policies accommodating the requirements of all children irrespective of class, creed and religion. Education that would make them rational, self-dependent and good human being is desired.
Interestingly the people advocating religious education for Muslim in madrasas have themselves obtained their education from modern educational institutions. If these people can’t find it to be good for themselves to just have religious education, how can they advocate it for others? For instance Akbaruddin Owaisi, the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and an MLA of the Telangana Legislative Assembly, who has opposed the move of the Maharashtra Government vehemently, studied at a reputed Hyderabad Public School till tenth grade. He did his higher secondary from St Mary’s Junior College after which he joined medicine course. Similarly Asaduddin Owaisi, the president of the AIMIM and an MP representing the Hyderabad constituency in the Lok Sabha, who has slammed the State, terming the move as a deliberate attempt to create a controversy too studied at the Hyderabad Public School and the St. Mary’s Junior College, Hyderabad. He graduated as a Bachelor of Arts from the Nizam College, Osmania University. Similarly, NCP leader and MLA from Kalwa-Mumbra Jitendra Awhad, who alleged that the decision has been taken by the BJP-led Government under the influence of the RSS, did his schooling from St. John Baptist High School, Thane. He graduated from BN Bandodkar College and completed his Marine Engineering Studies. He also didn’t attend any institution which teaches only Vedas, so is the case of Sanjay Nirupam, the former Member of Parliament of Congress party. Unsurprisingly while all these leaders propagate religious institutions for the poor, they send their kids to convent school to receive mainstream formal education. Doesn’t it raise a point of suspicion on their intention? Religion is often used as ideological state apparatus to exercise power over the poor illiterates and control the god-fearing people.
True every individual has a right to pursue whatever education h/se is interested in and literally there is nothing wrong in indulging in religious studies. Our religious texts do offer great philosophy and sometimes help us to resolve the riddles of life. But to understand those philosophies one needs to be matured. Anything imposed loses its charm. So we should let the children just be themselves and decide what they want as they grow up. Given a chance to take their own decision they would grow up to be thinking, independent and happy individuals. As of now beside formal education what they need is to learn to be a good human being and religion has nothing to do with it. Every child has a right to education and we cannot deny them!
Anish Gupta and Aaleya Giri teach Economics and English respectively at Delhi University.