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Enduring Muslim-Ness in a Multicultural society: Education of Muslim Girls in India

Swaleha Sindhi Ph.D.

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The nations’ rapidly deteriorating sex ratio, large gender gap and high drop out of girls prompted the central government to initiate the social campaign like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. More such steps are needed as in 2015, only 3.7 million eligible girls were out of school whereas in rural areas girls receive an average of fewer than four years of education.

Almost every conceivable strategy and approach to promote girl education has been covered in National Policies on Education and five year plans of the Government of India; however still many targets are to be achieved especially in the area of women education. The NPE 1986, POA 1992, SSA 2001, NCF 2005 and the NCF for Teacher Education in 2010 all focused on girl education and we cannot say things are not improving; just the pace needs to be enhanced. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (known as RTE) Act, 2010, charted a new roadmap for gender equality in education in India and the five year plans (Sixth Plan 1980-85, Seventh Plan 1985-90 and Ninth 1997-2002) specifically paid attention to educationally backward states and socially deprived groups and highlighted the role of local communities. All policy documents recognize that girl/women education especially from poor communities and rural areas need special attention. While affirmative action in the form of scholarships, abolition of tuition fees, bonds, reservation of jobs and places in institutions of higher learning have been provided, still there are evidences of stumbling blocks at the elementary level itself. There is lack of better implementation mechanism for education programmes and policies. Policies that are critical to increasing girls’ access, including flexible school times and adapted curricula, remain at the micro level and are not being integrated. Not only this, India’s budget for education sector remains far from the desired 6 per cent of the GDP. We are still not able to place education on the priority lists in budget allocation which hampers the image of education. If we look at the 2016 budget, there is an increase of Rs 43,554 crore for school education (approx 3 per cent increase) and Rs 28,840 crore for higher education (approx 7.3 per cent increase).

These issues have created a large gap in enrolment and gender parity, girls with disability, poor households, from remote or rural areas and girls from minority ethnic or linguistic backgrounds have more difficulty in getting into primary or completing secondary education. One such community is the Muslim minority community, it is observed that girls from Muslim community strive for identity crisis and gender equality; they face challenge of gender stereotypes. The retention and transition rates among these marginalized girls still persist. Therefore, there is a need to create strategies that would increase girls’ participation in education, strategies that would promote safe and sustainable education for the girls and will make families from conservative communities more interested to send their girls to school. In this context, making a provision for only girl’s school with more women teachers, gender sensitive teacher training, learning material, scholarships, awareness-raising campaigns and community mobilization can make a positive impact on the society and girl education.

Gujarat is a state in India with multicultural talent. In Gujarat Muslim community is looking forward to pool in the identity and build educational institutions. Therefore education of Muslim girls in certain institutions proves to be a hall mark of representing their identity. While these facts keep challenging us to take in time steps, it is equally true that efforts are on and one such model example is of Fatimah Zahra English Medium School for Girls in the city of Vadodara in Gujarat that is certainly changing the discourse. I have examined the role played by this school in educating girls and empowering them and their community. Muslim parents here prefer to educate their girls and empower them within their own culture; they prefer a community school for their girls to any other school (successful or model schools) available in the area. Therefore the institutions that take care of religious nationalism among the community promote feelings of social networking and help community remove the identity barriers. The role of institutions of religious education is thus enhanced, such institutions help remove myths about community and promote collective solidarity. This is a reason for girls in bulk getting enrolled in Fatimah Zahra School. This school plays a major role in influencing the community’s choice to educate their daughters by catering to their demand for community schools; it promotes minority culture and tries to mainstream this culture in education.

Fatimah Zahra English Medium School for Girls, established in the year 2012 in the old walled city of Vadodara city, has been catering to Muslim populace of this area where the girl education opportunities are particularly limited. There is just one Gujarati Medium girl’s school in the area. Majority of the residents of the area are economically and educationally backward and earn their living as auto drivers or lorry pullers. The school is up to class VIII; it is growing year by year until it is upgraded to higher secondary level. After school hours the school premise is used as Madressa and life lifelong learning centre for girls. The infrastructural facilities in the school are highly satisfactory, it has enough classrooms, a subject room with smart board, Principal’s office, the staffroom, activity room, dining room and the open hall for assembly. Classrooms have moveable furniture to allow group work and are decorated with charts and students’ work (also displayed in the Principal’s office). The school follows State Board syllabus and teachers incorporate cooperative learning strategies in their respective subjects, they undergo professional development programmes on a regular basis. Since the year 2012 significant improvements were made and school became very popular.

Today the student numbers grew to 1130 with 30 female staff. The school is successful in motivating community and parents to send their girls to school. This growth made the school over-crowded; subsequently the trust members are into the process of establishing preprimary in a separate building in the nearby area. Now the community of the area have developed trust in the school and respect every activity school organise. They allow their daughters to actively participate at local and district level activities and attend various camps. It never happened before, states one of the prominent trust member of the school, who has taken this mammoth task of educating community girls. Emerging from the advocacy and initiative of the trust members of this school, the community invest in cash and kind for a separate pre-primary building for school. Members of the community are contributing their labour, raising funds, and collectively working together to get the legal permissions to ensure the completion of the new building. The trust has further plans to establish a lifelong learning centre for the girls/ women of the community.

This school is successful in changing mindsets of the community, and the people of the community are made to understand the value of educating their daughters. Being an academic advisor for the school I visit the school regularly and conduct several workshops and orientation programmes for the teachers. I witness community not only supporting their daughters to go to school, but actively participating in all the activities. Every member associated with this school spare no efforts to discuss with parents that education matters for all and religion encourages rather that hinders girls to be educated. Community has understood the value of education and realise that if a girl goes to school she can get a better job and is more capable to help her family. Together, we can overcome challenges and break the barriers to girls’ education, and provide educational and vocational opportunities for all girls and boys, and then their futures will be so much brighter, says one of the Trust members of the school.

As a pathway out of poverty to economic growth, integrating Madressa with formal education, this school is successful in changing the deep rooted mindsets of community and empowering Muslim girls with education. Therefore it will not be wrong to say that policies and programs that are implemented with a strong focus on the community, with help from community or government partners are likely to be successful. Government, civil society and the NGO’s must set the benchmark of performance by implementing policies and programs for girl education and make an impact on girl child education. Therefore it will not be wrong to mention that when educational programmes are designed around the unique needs of the given community then these programmes become more effective and efficient and make a positive impact. Fatemah Zehra English Medium School for Girls is one such example of a modest step taken by the dedicated and focused members of the society to educate girl child and within no time the school has progressed in many ways. The highly increasing graph in enrolment and several good practices of this school have paved a way for the school to be called a Model School for Girls.

Dr.Swaleha Sindhi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Administration, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India. Dr. Sindhi is a frequent columnist on related topics, too. She is the Vice President of Indian Ocean Comparative Education Society (IOCES). Contact: swaleha sindhi[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Pakistan: A New Space Era

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Pakistan’s fragile economy and resource restraints are the main hurdles in the way of technological development, especially in space affairs. Therefore, it is so obvious that Pakistan governments’ priorities were off the beam in term of emphasis on space technology. Notwithstanding, Pakistan has taken a small step by launching two indigenously manufactured satellites, Remote Sensing Satellite-1 (PRSS-1) and Pakistan Technology Evaluation Satellite-1A (PakTES-1A) into orbit using a Chinese launch vehicle.

PRSS-1 is an earth observational and optical satellite, which will allow SUPARCO to analyze its imagery requirements in terms of land mapping, agriculture classification and assessment, urban and rural planning, environmental monitoring, natural disaster management and water resource management for the socio-economic development of the country. After the launch, Pakistan has joined the elite club to have its own remote sensing satellite in orbit.

Pakistan is an active participant of international cooperation of Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO). The APSCO is an inter-governmental institute functioned as a non-profit independent body with full international legal status. Its Members include space agencies from Bangladesh, China, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey. The recent launch of satellites by Pakistan is an extension of support given by APSCO. Therefore, it is the conceding fact that after the successful launches of PRSS-1 and PakTES-1A projects, the space collaboration between Pakistan and China with respect to APSCO will be further strengthened.

The launch of two new satellites will facilitate SUPARCO in developing indigenous capabilities in space technology and promote space applications for socio-economic uplift of the country. Recently, an international conference on the Use of Space Technology for Water Management was hosted by the SUPARCO in March 2018. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW) – were jointly organizing the Conference. The conclusion of the conference was that there mote sensing satellite technology i.e. PRSS-1, have validated established competences in terms of water resource management.

Pakistan is rapidly becoming a water-stressed country and according to some estimates, it could face mass droughts by 2025. In this scenario, a remote sensing satellite will be very beneficial in accumulating the data for future plans to fight against this evolving threat. PRSS-1 will use remote sensing techniques to outline the surface water bodies, assess meteorological variables like temperature and precipitation, estimate hydrological state variables like soil moisture and land surface characteristics, and fluxes such as evapotranspiration will be compiled by scientific methods.

Pakistan along with other South Asian states is the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Satellite remote sensing is a useful scientific tool in understanding the climate system and its changes. The technologies and information related to space contribute a fundamental role in climate knowledge, science, monitoring and early warning. Space-based information can subsidize to calculations of the vulnerability of societies to climate change and can help monitor the efficiency of adaptation strategies.

Agriculture holds a great significance for Pakistan and being an agrarian economy, all institutions should be playing a positive role for consolidation in the agriculture sector. The professions related to agriculture i.e. farmers, agronomists, food manufacturers and agricultural policymakers can concurrently augment production and profitability by using space-based technology. The best apparatus to monitor and enhance agriculture development is a remote sensing satellite, which provides key data for monitoring soil, snow cover, drought and crop development. Remote sensing satellite can assess and record precipitation for farmers to assist them in scheduling the timing and amount of irrigation they will need for their crops. Precise data and examination can also benefit in forecasting a region’s agricultural output well in advance and can be critical in anticipating and mitigating the effects of food shortages and famines.

In this era of technological advancement, the Global community today faces a series of non-tradition threats such as climate change and the management of depleting natural resources. In the backdrop of emerging requirements of societal and economic development, geospatial technology is evolving as a top technological domain in the 21st century. The technologies related to earth observation and remote sensing techniques are getting growing interest from the academia, scientists, governments and industries. Pakistan is increasing its efforts in managing natural resources, enhance sustainable urban and territorial development initiatives, facilitate the conservation of forests and valuable biodiversity habitats. Space technologies must benefit all countries; therefore, the international community must support Pakistan to ensure the peaceful application of its space programme.

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South Asia

Pakistani elections spotlight the country’s contradictory policies

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A virulently anti-Shiite, Saudi-backed candidate for parliament in Pakistan’s July 25 election symbolizes the country’s effort to reconcile contradictory policy objectives in an all but impossible attempt to keep domestic forces and foreign allies happy.

Ramzan Mengal’s candidacy highlights Pakistan’s convoluted relationship to Islamic militants at a time that the country risks being blacklisted by an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog.

It also spotlights Pakistan’s tightrope act in balancing relations with Middle Eastern arch rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran while trying to ensure security for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), at US$50 billion plus the crown jewel of China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative and its single largest investment.

Finally, it puts on display risks involved in China’s backing of Pakistan’s selective support of militants as well as the Pakistani military’s strategy of trying to counter militancy by allowing some militants to enter the country’s mainstream politics.

An Islamic scholar, Mr. Mengal heads the Balochistan chapter of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ), a banned successor to Sipah-e-Sahaba, an earlier outlawed group responsible for the death of a large number of Shiites in the past three decades.

Pakistan last month removed Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the head of Ahl-e-Sunnat from the Pakistani terrorism list, at the very moment that it was agreeing with the Financial Action Task Fore (FATF) on a plan to strengthen the country’s anti-money laundering and terrorism finance regime that would keep it off the groups blacklist.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met with Mr. Ludhianvi in recent days.

Military support for the participation of militants in elections was “a combination of keeping control over important national matters like security, defense and foreign policy, but also giving these former militant groups that have served the state a route into the mainstream where their energies can be utilized,” a senior military official said.

Critics charge that integration is likely to fail. “Incorporating radical Islamist movements into formal political systems may have some benefits in theory… But the structural limitations in some Muslim countries with prominent radical groups make it unlikely that these groups will adopt such reforms, at least not anytime soon… While Islamabad wants to combat jihadist insurgents in Pakistan, it also wants to maintain influence over groups that are engaged in India and Afghanistan,” said Kamran Bokhari, a well-known scholar of violent extremism.

Citing the example of a militant Egyptian group that formed a political party to participate in elections, Mr. Bokhari argued that “though such groups remain opposed to democracy in theory, they are willing to participate in electoral politics to enhance their influence over the state. Extremist groups thus become incorporated into existing institutions and try to push radical changes from within the system.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mr. Mengal was uninhibited about his relationship with Pakistan’s security forces. “No restrictions at all. I have police security during the election campaign. When I take out a rally in my area, I telephone the police and am given guards for it.,” he said. Mr. Mengal said of the 100 ASWJ operatives arrested in the last two years only five or six remained behind bars.

A frequent suspect in the killings of Hazara Shiites in Balochistan, Mr. Mengal led crowds in chanting “Kafir, kafir, Shia kafir (Infidels, infidels, Shiites are infidels),” but is now more cautious not to violate Pakistani laws on hate speech.

Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights reported in May that 509 Hazaras had been killed since 2013.

Many of those killings are laid at the doorstep of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a violent group that split from Sipah/ASWJ but, according to a founding member of Sipah still has close ties to the mother organization. ASWJ denies that it is still linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi

Suicide bombers killed 129 people this month in an attack on a rally of the newly founded Balochistan Awami Party, widely seen as a military-backed group seeking to counter Baloch nationalists. The Islamic State as well as the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Mengal was the alleged conduit in the past two years for large amounts of Saudi money that poured into militant madrassas or religious seminaries that dot Balochistan, the Pakistani province of Balochistan.

The funds, despite the fact that it was not clear whether they were government or private monies, and if they were private whether the donations had been tacitly authorized, were widely seen as creating building blocks for a possible Saudi effort to destabilize Iran by fomenting ethnic unrest among the Baloch on the Iranian side of the Pakistani border.

A potential Saudi effort, possibly backed by the United States, would complicate an already difficult security situation in Balochistan, home to the port of Gwadar, which is a key node in China’s massive investment in Pakistan and has witnessed attacks on Chinese targets.

It would risk putting Saudi and Chinese interests at odds and upset Pakistan’s applecart, built on efforts to pacify Balochistan while not allowing its longstanding, close ties to the kingdom to strain relations with its Iranian neighbour.

The Pakistani military’s strategy of easing militants into the country’s mainstream politics is also not without risks for China that in contrast to its South Asian ally has adopted an iron fist in dealing with dissent of its own, particularly in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang where China has implemented extreme measures to counter Uyghur nationalism and militant Islam.

If successful, it would create an alternative approach to counterterrorism. If not, it would reflect poorly on China’s selective shielding from United Nations designation as a global terrorist of a prominent Pakistani militant, Masood Azhar, a fighter in Afghanistan and an Islamic scholar who is believed to have been responsible for a 2016 attack on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station.

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South Asia

Dilemma of Strengthening Democracy in Pakistan

Fateh Najeeb Bhatti

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No country can achieve political stability without the active coordination of different state institutions working within their own specified parameters. For a nation to keep moving smoothly on the road to prosperity and maintaining national cohesion, consensus among political forces and other stakeholders is mandatory. History of developed and successful democratic nations is evidence of such instances in which political stability came out as a result of collective national wisdom.

Talking about Pakistan’s political dilemma, a few things become very clear that certain impediments had always been there right from the emergence of Pakistan as an independent state. Due to the internal politics in the power corridors, Pakistan was unable to formulate its constitution till 1956. Soon after that, in 1958, as a consequence of a long spell of endless political differences of the politicians in power and related lack of efficiency in handling the government affairs, the very first Martial Law was imposed. As a result the country was ruled by the military General Ayub Khan, although in that period Pakistan was able to achieve high economic growth progress. Since then, Pakistan has faced four martial laws till date.

Apart from these military takeovers and running of the governments by the military leaders for almost thirty years at different times, the elected civilian governments have also ruled the country for about 40 years. It is a popular perception among the majority of masses that the politicians adopt malpractices like nepotism, aristocratic behavior, change of loyalties etc and do not run the government affairs efficiently, which motivates the military leaders to take over the affairs of the country. However, whatever the reason may be, there is no justification to not allow the democracy to strengthen its roots, as according to Pakistan’s founding fathers, Pakistan’s future lies only in the democracy.

Although not likeable, but perceivably different military leaders took over the governments based on certain grounds, propagated mainly due to the inability of the civilian leaders to govern the country efficiently and their attitude of encouraging corruption, thus, undermining Pakistan’s socioeconomic development and its foreign and defence policy objectives. For instance, in 1958, the politicians’ inability to govern the diverse two part country inevitably invited Ayub Khan to take over. Similarly, in 1969 when Ayub’s presidential democracy failed on some accounts he had to hand over the power to General Yahya Khan.

Again in 1977, when the opposition parties failed to admit the election results and Bhutto was unable to bring the opposing politicians to negotiation tables,  Zia-UL-Haq was motivated to take over, as some politicians, including late Air Marshall (R) Asghar Khan had advised General Zia to take over reins of the government. In 1999, when the then PM Nawaz Sharif sacked General Pervez while he was on the flight from Sri Lanka, back from his visit, in reaction, General Pervez Musharraf ordered a military takeover by alleging PM Nawaz Sharif that he had tried to hijack the PIA plane carrying General Pervez Mushrraf and many other passengers, by ordering that plane to land somewhere else instead of Karachi airport.

Although, elected civilian were governing the country since 2008, in view of various apprehensions the political atmosphere remained ripe with the news stories of the civil-military divide and possibilities of the military take over being there. This situation was there because on most of the national issues and defence and foreign matters both civilian and the military leadership did not seem to be on the same page. However, apprehensions about military’s alleged role in the politics are still there, despite the current Chief of the Army Staff’s negation stating that the military supports democracy in the country.

Broadly seeing through the efficiency of the civilian political leadership in strengthening democracy by cooperative politics and working on national issues with consensus, the civilian leaders are still not working as per the people’s aspirations. Many of our politicians are involved in corrupt practices. Those who declare themselves Mr. clean have not much reliable past. So far, they have not been able to prove through their efficiency that politicians can provide Pakistan with the best form of the government that can make Pakistan a welfare state providing equal opportunities to everybody. Although, it is not an excuse for military powers to intervene in politics. Hence the problem is that how this desired sustainable and durable system will come into Pakistan, because inefficiency and corrupt practices of the politicians still offer chances to the military leaders to take over the government in Pakistan.

It is also a historical fact that Pakistan, because of its ideological mythology and geographical proximity has always been a security state. It has yet to achieve the objective of a welfare state, which is a way to address the present internal and external issues of Pakistan.  Furthermore, the public perception of military institution is as a disciplined, honest and purely nationalistic institution, which majority of our politicians’ lack. The supremacy of civil institutions is alright, but to achieve it the political pundits in Pakistan has to prove themselves loyal, honest and men of words and actions. Also, both sides have to recognize each other’s constitutional role in true letter and spirit.

Neither military nor political leadership can handle the prevailing issues of Pakistan single handedly. The need of the hour is to cooperate with each other on domestic, defence and foreign policy issues. Since, the foreign policy of any country is the outcome of its internal strength, domestic peace, prosperity and national cohesion leads to a strong and effective foreign policy. This fact needs to be understood by all stakeholders. Hence every institution should remain in its own domain to strengthen government hands to serve the county in all areas, particularly in carrying out socioeconomic development of the country and running of strong foreign and defence policies. In this context, democracy will be only sustained and strengthened if all national institutions work in their own domains and mutually cooperate to maintain a good atmosphere for development of the country.

To avoid future military takeovers, sustain democracy and develop economically, we can also learn from our friendly country, Turkey. Turkey has also suffered such political upheavals in their history, but now they have managed to restrict the influence of each institution to its own sphere. Though, Pakistan’s scenario is somewhat different, but things are not as bad as  perceived by some people in Pakistan. As a student of international politics, my personal opinion about the future of Pakistan seems very bright if our politicians follow the guidelines of our founding fathers and military establishment concentrates on its own responsibilities and always gives a helping hand to the civilian governments.

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