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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

New Government in Bangladesh: Implications for China-Bangladesh Relations

Noor Mohammad Sarker

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The People’s Republic of China is one of the earliest countries to congratulate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her landslide victory by securing two-third majority in the 11th National Parliamentary Election in Bangladesh, held on December 30, 2018. Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka, Zhang Zuo, and his team paid an official visit to the Prime Minister’s Office, Ganabhaban, on December 31, 2018, to hand over the congratulatory messages to the newly elected Prime Minister from Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. This official message denotes China’s continuous support to Bangladesh as well as the potency of their bilateral strategic partnership at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Over the years, especially since 1990s, China has emerged as a cooperative and reliable partner for Bangladesh in the economic development and national security build-up of the latter. Under the constant rule of Sheikh Hasina and her party, Bangladesh Awami League, in Bangladesh since 2009, the relationship has turned into a comprehensive strategic partnership.

In terms of trade, China, at this moment, stands as the largest trading partner for Bangladesh with more than $10 billion of bilateral trade volume. According to the reports provided by the Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh, the amount of country’s total export to China was $808.14 million in the fiscal year 2015-16, compared to the amount of $319.66 million in 2010-11. At the same time, China’s export to Bangladesh in 2015-16 was worth about $9.8 billion, compared to the amount of $5.9 billion in 2010-11. Economists have predicted that, if the current rate continues like this, the bilateral trade volume would reach up to $18 billion in 2021, when Bangladesh will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Throughout the last decade, Bangladesh has developed an outstanding political relationship with China as well. For example, when Chinese President Xi Jinping’s paid an official visit to Dhaka in October 2016, Bangladesh received him with the highest official greetings ever. It was the first visit by any Chinese head of the state to Bangladesh in 30 years, which is considered as the biggest diplomatic milestone to their bilateral relationship.

During this visit, both countries signed 27 deals and memorandum of understanding (MoUs) worth an amount of $13.6 billion in trade and investment sectors. President Xi has also offered $23 billion loan to Bangladesh for supporting some large-scale infrastructure projects. Prior to that, in May 2014, the China Major Bridge Engineering Company (CMBEC) was awarded for the construction of Padma Bridge, the biggest ever infrastructural project in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has been an official partner of China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since 2016. The country is one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) as well. Geographically, Bangladesh is a part of both overland and maritime routes of BRI. It is a member of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) initiative, which focuses on the revival of the Southern Silk Road under BRI by physically connecting the landlocked provinces of Southern China to the Bay of Bengal. On the other hand, the Chattogram sea-port and its adjacent maritime area of Bangladesh have been an integral part of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The country has, in fact, received the second highest amount of funding from BRI project in South Asian region, after Pakistan.

Apart from these developments, China has also emerged as a strategic security partner for Bangladesh in South Asia over the last decade. In the period of 2011-2015, for example, Bangladesh became the second highest importer of military equipments from China. In order to strengthen the capacity of Bangladesh Navy under the current regime of PM Sheikh Hasian, Bangladesh purchased two submarines from China, named BNS Nabajatra and Joyjatra, both delivered in 2016. Bangladesh also purchased six surface ships from China in between 2009 and 2015, which include two patrol boats with modest anti-surface and anti-submarine capabilities. These technological supports and upgraded equipments from China have enabled Bangladesh Navy to be emerged as a “blue-water” defense force for protecting country’s maritime area.

In terms of education and cultural exchanges, both China and Bangladesh have further developed their cooperation during this period. Several Chinese language institutes have been established, by far, in both public and private universities of Bangladesh. The number of Bangladeshi students studying in China has also been increased significantly with the help of growing number of scholarships from the Chinese government.

Hence, as per the expectations from both sides, the extension of Sheikh Hasina’s government for the third time will contribute to further boost up this bilateral cooperation. China believes that, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh will be able to fulfill its “Vision 2021” and, thereby, to become a middle income country by 2021, which would create further opportunities for the promotion of China-Bangladesh friendship in the upcoming days.

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South Asia

Will Pakistan go to IMF finally?

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) was created just after World War II (WWII) in 1945. It was the time of re-organization of the world order after massive destruction of WWII. UN and its organizations were establishing and whole world was passing through reforms. The IMF is an organization of 189 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.

The beneficiary of WWII was US, and emerged as leader of World. IMF and World Bank like other UN and International organizations were depending on US funding to some extend and US has been utilizing in expand its economic, political and military influence around the world, frequently. US was involved in appointing head of such organizations directly or indirectly.  I leave it to my readers to judge that if IMF and other organizations have achieved its objectives or not?

Pakistan have been knocking doors of IMF since 1958, and it has been 21 agreement with IMF. Generally, IMF provides loans at very low interest rates, and provides programmes of better governance and monitoring too. But for last 6 decades, Pakistan has suffered a lot, in term of good governance. Especially last 2 decades, corruption, nepotism, poor planning, bribery, weakening of institution, de-moralization of society, etc were witnessed. We may not blame IMF for all such evils, but must complain that IMF failed to deliver, what was expected. Of course, it is our country, we are responsible for all evils, and wrong doings happened to us. We have to act smartly and should have made right decision and on right times.

In fact, beneficiary of corruption, is west, and in some of the cases, west has inspired or protected the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in the developing nation and Pakistan is no exception to it. At least, IMF failed to monitor the utilization of funds provided.

IMF also dictates its terms and condition or programmes like: devaluation of local currencies, which causes inflation and hike in prices, cut or draw-back of subsidies on basic utilities like fuel, gas, electricity etc, which causes cost of life rather higher for local people, cut on development expenditures like education, health, infrastructure, and social development etc, which pushes the country backward.

Pakistan was no exception to it in the history of our relations with IMF. Last couple of decades, we could not develop our infrastructure, as a result we are back ward and could not take off economically, could not built Dams and suffering from Power shortage and water crisis, Education, health and social sector was ignored and pushed us rather backward.

In past, whenever we approached IMF, US administration was favoring us, but this time, it was witnessed that US may create hurdles or resistance in the form of additional conditions etc.

Based on experience of 6 decades, Government of Pakistan (GoP) have to make decision, weather to go to IMF or not? It is very serious issue and very sensitive decision. GoP is very serious and in close consultations with various experts from within the government and out side the government. There is a group in Pakistan, lobbying for IMF, as it is cheapest and more structured. Pro-IMF lobbies are more close to PM Imran Khan. While, there are experts who are against IMF and feels in past, if IMF was not helpful for Pakistan, then why to go again for the same tested organization. It is worth mentioning that, Pakistan is a diversified nation, and freedom of expression is ensured by constitution of Pakistan, so many controversial opinions are expected – we enjoy the highest degree of freedom. .

In past, politicians were rather easy to coerce and IMF was successful in their missions. But, today, Pakistan is in safe hands and current leadership is honest, loyal and sincere with Pakistan. The PM Imran Khan is a strong man and will take decision based on principles in the best interest of nation.  Sources close to him, feels that till date he is not convince yet, but will take a firm decision soon. His decision will be based on expert advice, national interest and purely merit-based.

However, all other option may be explored and taped, like friendly nations have already extended a hand of financial assistance. Like Saudi Arabia, Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia and China. Which has lessen the need of going to IMF to a great extent. It will provide an edge to Pakistan, while negotiating with IMF.

Whatever will be his decision, people of Pakistan trust him and will stand behind him. His decision will be considered the decision of 220 million of Pakistan. Pakistan has a history of “No Default” in last 7 decades to any one of our international obligation or agreement. Pakistan is a civilized, disciplined and matured & resilient nation. We have passed many harsh tests, in last 4 decades and learnt many lessons.

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South Asia

Pakistan Securing Its Maritime Interest and CPEC

Qura tul ain Hafeez

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The IOR is a major sea route that unites the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia with Europe and America. The excessive economic growth of littoral states of Indian Ocean obliges them to protect their energy needs and interests in order to endure their purchasing power. This has great security implications for the sea line of communication of the littoral states of IOR like Pakistan.

Continuing to Pakistan’s interests in IOR the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has great potential to transmute Pakistan into a central trade platform, which would undeniably gushed the enemies, particularly India, to halt it. The development of Gwadar sea-ports as part of BRI in general  and that of CPEC in particular has amplified India’s concerns’ and aimed for more sophisticated and advanced naval build-up. Furthermore, India perceives the Gawadar port (that is considered as crown jewel of CPEC) as a hazard to its contesting interests in Central Asia countries.  The reason being, India can access Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian Republics (CARs) only through Cahabahar by passing Pakistan and Gawadar  a deep water sea port that is easily accessible to these land locked states then Chahabahr. A couple of days back on 24th December 2018 India has formally over taken the operational control of Iran’s Cahabahar port – only (0 Km away from Gawadar port. India’s aspirations to become blue water navy in the IOR raise serious concerns among Pakistan’s maritime security. CPEC would lead toward increased maritime politics and contestations not only between Pakistan and India but would also involve China and US.

In such turbulent circumstances Pakistan is required to prepare its sea based defense to secure its sea lines.   Islamabad needs to carefully evaluate its options and develop its strategic response accordingly, involving but not limited to continuous development of its naval capability and an even closer maritime cooperation with China. In view of the prevailing power dynamics in Indian Ocean Pakistan Navyin order to secure its interest in IOR inked a contract with China’s State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC)in June 2018 for two, Type 054AP frigates. The agreement is an extension of a previously signed agreement in 2017. Recently on December 19, 2018 steel-cutting ceremony for the second Type 054A frigate for the Pakistan Navy was held at the Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai. The type 054 AP warship frigates will be equipped with modern detection-state of art sensor and Guided Missiles weapon systems; capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and air-defense operations. According to the report of China Daily report added that the “Type 054A is the best frigate in service with the PLAN”.

It is pertinent to mention here that maritime security is linked with the Economic security and vice versa. Gawader port is one of the most important projects of the CPEC where Pakistan and China are very hopeful that in future this shipping port will generate the revenue for Pakistan’s economy.  There is a big chunk of fishery industry through which Pakistan can earn a lot. It will stimulate business and trade activities at state level and across the region.  The 054 AP frigates ““Will be one of the largest and most technologically advanced platforms of the Pakistani Navy and strengthen the country’s capability to respond to future challenges, maintain peace and stability and the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region” a report on 2nd January 2019 released by  Chinese state owned media said.

In some, to deal with all these existing defies Pakistan Navy (PN) has espoused to a multi divided line of action for safeguarding the port in more effective manners. It conducts security patrolling h and coastal exercises from time to time. Furthermore, previously in 2013 it has inaugurated its Joint Maritime Information Coordination Center (JMICC) in Karachi to provide with an effective mechanism of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).  After receiving these 054 AP frigates warship Pakistan will definitely in far more better position to counter India’s vested interests in Indian Ocean region. It will also help secure the Gwadar port which is the chief component of Pakistan maritime trade activities. China has always been an al weather strategic partner of Pakistan. Although India always tries to propagate that CPEC is military agreement instead of an economic one however, securing the economic interests with an advanced mechanism does not mean at all that it’s planning something militarily. Pakistan has always adopted a defensive policy and it is the right of every sovereign state to secure its interests even if they are economic as there is no morality in international politics, still CPEC is an economic project which welcomes every state of the region for economic cooperation  even if it is India as well.

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