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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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INGO’s Nefarious Designs in the Garb of Development / Social Work

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In a developing country like Pakistan where governments have not paid due attention to raise the standard of living of the common people, initiatives by non-governmental and civil society have assumed special significance. Over the past many years, dozens of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) have been performing the central role in promoting social welfare in the country. INGOs in Pakistan mostly work for utilizing the foreign funds they receive through the projects of foreign governments or Donor agencies. In the country like Pakistan where the government finds it challenging to deal with the many socio-economic problems faced by its populace, the role of INGOs in contributing to solve and support government policies to address these problems becomes vital. The INGOs have been working in Pakistan since late 1980s in the fields of education, medicine, social development, etc. They also operate as think tanks, survey teams, gallop polls agents and advisers to local administration to tackle social and education issues. It is widely believed that some of INGOs play nefarious role of weakening the ideological, social, political and economic foundations of Pakistan and creating split in the society. They even perform duties of spy agents for their masters and pass on ground intelligence and assessment regarding the societal trends and the exploitable vulnerabilities of deprived portion of society. Under the guise of development / social work, they often pretend themselves as the friends and well-wishers of the neglected classes, and silently keep on injecting poison by carrying out subversive activities to subvert the minds of down trodden class of society through stoking their socio-economic-ethnic and sectarian sensibilities.

Media that is perceived to be heavily funded by USA, Israel and India, not only reinforce their subversive activities by supporting the cause of anti-state elements but also degrade the law enforcement agencies and the government in power. Some of INGOs have supposedly a big hand in the instability of Pakistan. Having achieved considerable success in FATA, KP and Karachi, their focus has now shifted to interior Sindh, GilgitBaltistan (GB) and AJK where ethnic emotions and their deprivations are being stirred. These INGOs are also active in private education institutions particularly the elite schools, colleges and universities where teachers and professors are not only being cultivated but minds of the students are poisoned as well. They promote secularism and liberalism to demonize Islam with view to distract the youth from the righteous path of Islam. Some of the INGOs were found having connections with Indian High Commission Islamabad while some attempted to collect the data during general elections possibly to influence the results.

It is notable that INGOs started pouring into Pakistan after 1988 when Pakistan became dependent upon IMF, World Bank and US aid to run the governmental affairs. The International Donor Agencies that are considered to be funded and used by intelligence agencies started funding in Pakistan in order to cultivate more people in the garb of economic and social development projects.  After 9/11, when the US sanctions under Pressler Amendment were lifted and foreign aid started to flow in, the rate of influx of INGOs increased. A big number came when $7.5 billion worth Kerry Lugar Bill was signed in 2009. The amount required to be spent on development, military and media was spread over years. Then Pakistan Ambassador in Washington Hussain Haqqani had played a role in inserting anti-military establishment clauses after the approval of the initial agreement. He is also said to be helped CIA in the induction of Black Water and CIA contractors, spies and INGOs into Pakistan between 2008 and 2011, which enabled CIA to deploy Raymond Davis and other operators and to launch the helicopters assault in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. The INGOs were cleverly deployed in the restive combat zones under the garb of rehabilitating the affected people. During the natural disasters of 2005 and 2010, the influx of INGOs has increased manifold in the garb of humanitarian assistance.

The INGOs are operating in Pakistan unregistered for the last 30 years. They operated freely after obtaining NOCs, and without registering and notifying their areas of work, mandate and source of funding. Their shady activities were ignored due to American and Western media pressure. The last PML-N government decided to curb their activities of unregistered INGOs. A crackdown was launched in January 2015 after it was learnt that several of INGOs were engaged in anti-Pakistan agenda. 140 NGOs were operating in Punjab out of which 7 were reported to be involved in unlawful activities. In June 2015, the then Interior Minister ChNisar Ali stated that several INGOs were backed by USA, Israel and India. “There are several NGOs operating in Pakistan without any specific agenda. They were doing something which was against Pakistan’s interest.” He alleged that most of them were taking part in “anti-Pakistan” activities.

A new policy was framed in November 2015 by the Interior Ministry and all INGOs were asked to re-apply and get re-registered. Notices have been served to 18 INGOs whose registration has not been approved, and told to quit Pakistan within 60 days. They will be given a chance to re-apply after six months from their respective countries of origin. The said INGOs do indeed participate in very useful activities whenever they remain true to their mandate so it’s basically giving them half a year to replace their “hybrid war operatives” with the “useful humanitarian operatives”. As no proper law or system in Pakistan existed to ban these INGOs, therefore, the recent scrutiny will help Pakistan to adopt a comprehensive policy. It is added that Director Social Welfare has been directed to prepare the data bank of all NGOs in order to ensure their regular monitoring.  Categorization of NGOs is to be done through data bank. SOPs for registration of NGOs are also being streamlined and reviewed so that only clean and genuine organization could qualify for registration. It is mention that Pakistan is not the only country that has banned INGOs from working against its national interest. India, China and Russia are other examples in the region.

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Paiqham-e-Pakistan Curbs Sectarian Narratives and Violence

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Muharram is the first month of Islamic calendar and the holiest in four sacred months, in which fighting is prohibited. The conflicts, conspiracies and crises created by sectarian and religious extremist outfits and the violence associated with this month have impeded peace in the Muslim world. The menace of sectarianism is widely attributed to be a result of regional rivalry among Muslim states, including proxies in Pakistan for influence and hostile countries sponsorship of terrorism. Reportedly, millions of dollars of funding to fundamentalist networks come from abroad and evil minded selfish people act abhorrently for their-vested interests and play with lives of many innocent Pakistanis.

Sporadic sectarian unrest in Pakistan is part of anti-Pakistan designs of inimical secret agencies like RAW and its international partners. These hostile elements manipulated sectarian differences between Riyadh and Tehran and exploited them for destabilizing Pakistan. Nevertheless, whoever is behind this, they are trying to destabilize Pakistan by dividing its people, in different groups, manipulating the mind of several with lavish offers and implanting prejudicial opinions about various religious and sectarian communities. Unfortunate is the fact that most of the sectarian violence/ hatred is carried out in the name of Islam.

Although terror-related sectarian incidents, have already minimized in Pakistan in the past few years, but the historic national consensus in the form of Paigham-e-Pakistan (PeP) has significantly eliminated the shadows of sectarian violence during Muharram. Pakistan’s government had launched PeP, the national narrative on extremism, sectarianism and terrorism on January 16, 2018, comprised of 22points Fatwa (religious decree). Heads of Itte had Tanzeem-ul-Madaris and leading Muftis from all sects had prepared the fatwa and issued a unanimous declaration in order to strengthen the ties among different sects and agreed on addressing the sectarian conflict and grievances. The historic Fatwa was endorsed by more than 6000, religious scholars of all schools of thought from across the country, including renowned international scholars like Imam-e-Kaaba, Grand Mufti of Egypt and Grand Mufti Thailand. The collective Fatwa clearly stated that “sectarian, hatred, armed sectarian conflict and imposing one’s ideology on others by force is clear violation of the injunctions of the Shariah and tended to create disorder on earth”.

A major boost to the efforts of inter-sect harmony came when leading scholars from all sects unified for PeP to show sectarian harmony which had been unseen in the past. This initiative is the best tool to deal with extremism, sectarianism and intolerance in the society and a way forward for the country to march on the path of peace and prosperity as it is a methodology to unite all religious institutions and scholars. PeP initiative is in fact a true representation of the Holy Quran, Sunnah and social principles of Islamic Shariah, which can guarantee a safe and peaceful future for our next generations by ridding the society out of hatred and prejudices. Promotion of this initiative is the national and religious obligation of the Ulema and every individual regardless of association to sects and religious groups. Being Muslims, it is our national and religious responsibility to strive for setting up a peaceful and exemplary society which is free of extremism, sectarianism and terrorism. Religious scholars and Ulema from all schools of thought should play active role to mark this holy month of Muharram peacefully and in a befitting manner for spreading the message of Ahl-e-Bait (RA) as this message promotes peace and harmony among humanity.

In term of religious belief and practice; there are more similarities than difference among all sects and this reality, rationally demands from the proponents of all sect to prefer commonalities by ignoring minute differences. Those who ignore this reality must know that sectarian sensitivities will not be allowed to create ferocity, unrest and disorder in the country. This entails application of stringent measures and full control over sectarian groups to avoid conflicts and spread of religious hatred. It is of particular attention that Islam stresses upon forgiveness, kindness and sanctity of human life above all. Muslims must .know about the conspiracies being hatched by their enemy to divide them into sects and they have to remain vigilant to foil these nefarious designs. The Muslim Ummah particularly Pakistanis must stand united and shun their sectarian differences for the glory of Islam curbing the menace of anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan conspiracies.

The holy month of Muharram teaches the whole humanity religious harmony and peace, so following the proverb “don’t quit your faith and don’t interfere in others faith”, we must mark this holy month peacefully, respectfully and with befitting manners. During Muharram-ul-Haram, every Muslim regardless of sect and creed regards and pays tribute to the martyrs of Karbala. Moreover, people also arrange eateries for the procession which truly depicts brotherhood that Islam preaches. Most importantly, afterthe launch of PeP, the religious leaders and members of peace committees are actively involved in promoting religious/ sectarian harmony and utilize all their capabilities for maintaining the environment of brotherhood, accommodation .and tolerance. Different projects are under way including training programs-to help eradicate the extremism and sectarian violence at national level. Determinant efforts have been made to familiarize the students studying at Universities and Madaris with the philosophy of PeP initiative by disseminating the message of peace and sectarian harmony. Awareness among people has been nurtured through Seminars and Conferences across country to create sense of social responsibility and encourage them to keep a watchful eye on sectarian and anti-social elements. We need to understand the conspiracy against our country and try our best to be united for making the country a haven of peace.

Islam is the religion of peace as it teaches unity, harmony, brotherhood and tolerance in the society and tells its followers to respect the rights of not only Muslims but Non-Muslims as well. The right hour has come that religious clerics, political and religious parties including media persons and the intellectuals should play an effective role in creating religious tolerance and enlightenment amongst all religious factions particularly those of Sunnis and Shias, convincing them to live in harmony and peace adopting the principle of mutual co-existence. Every person of the society should come forward to play a pivotal role to save the country from the flames of sectarian violence by promoting religious and sectarian harmony. Ulema must, exercise tolerance and forge harmony by desisting from delivering controversial and provocative speeches to help maintain peace during Muharram-ul-Haram. The delicate-peace is crucial for the country and we should rise above all sorts of personal interests fulfilling our responsibilities towards our country and refrain from issuing ‘Fatwas’ on the basis of difference of opinion.

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Sri Lanka’s Shifting Politics: 2018 Marks a Turning Point for SLFP

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Pooja Singh

For the past twenty-five years, Sri Lanka’s freedom party have enjoyed enormous success in Sri Lanka’s political history. Yet, despite these great achievements under the presidency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, the presidency of Sirisena has faced a complicated political scenario in the past few weeks. This complicated process rose due to the swearing-in of a new prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksha on 26th October 2018. Losing the parliamentary majority severely limited the ability of Sirisena-Mahinda Government to control the parliamentary majority and push through loss without compromising with opposition parties such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the United National Party which comprises over 100 seats in a 225 assembly. The president dissolved the parliament under these circumstances and he has called on for general elections without having a floor test, this has been challenged by the opposition parties and the citizens of the country are confused and waiting for a stable democratic solution.

Looking back at the Sri Lanka’s post independent history, the 1978 Sri Lankan constitution gives the president the right to appoint a Prime Minister but the appointment needs the consent of the parliament, hence the executive powers is wasted by the Sri Lanka constitution in the president. It does not seem fair to say that Sri Lanka has failed to achieve a stable democratic system, hence, one could argue that this situation is a power transition to a power alteration. Similarly, in 1950’s S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the founder of Sri Lanka Freedom Party crossed over from the ruling party, the united national party and united the forces of Sangha, Veda, Guru, Govi, Kamkaru. At the elections of 1957, the ruling United National Party won only 8 seats. The alliance between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Mahajana Eksath Perumana for the first time headed by SWRD Bandaranaike won a total no. of 60 seats. “We are friends of all, enemies of none”, the statement should be a reflection for the decision makers of the SLFP who carried the mandate of the party that influences country’s policy for its future. Bandaranaike’s premiership sadly came to an end after the assassination by a Buddhist monk. Later, the assassinated prime minister’s wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman prime minister and under her premiership, Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972. After the massive defeat of Sri Lanka freedom party, the Sri Lankan 1972 constitution was replaced by the president J. R. Jayewardene in 1978.

After a 17-years gap, Sri Lanka Freedom Party combined in an alliance named as People’s alliance under the leadership of Chandrika Bandaranaike came into power in 1994. President Chandrika took a much more flexible approach during her tenure from 1995 to 2005. When Mahinda first won presidency in 2005, he won every province in Sri Lanka except northern and eastern provinces in the island country. Since, the end of war, Sri Lankan govt. under the leadership of Mahinda has been punitive. Thereby, Mahinda stepping into the limelight for presidential elections in a closely contested presidential elections with Ranil Wickramsinghe. In fact, during his second tenure from 2010- 2015, former president Mahinda Rajapaksha became more tough minded since the end of 30-year war in Sri Lanka. One could argue Sri Lanka govt. under SLFP presidency have been punitive in the past twenty- five years.

In 2014, Mahinda Rajapaksha announced snap presidential elections as the election date approached, Maithripala Sirisena, the general secretary of SLFP defected from the party and joined the opposition led coalition named United National Front. With Maithripala, over dozens of ministers and members of parliament resigned from the SLFP in order to carry out the mandate announced by Sirisena. January 5, 2015 general elections saw a significant higher turnout and Maithripala became president along with Ranil Wickramsinghe and it was the major defeat for Mahinda Rajapaksha and his United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Soon after Sirisena was sworn in as president, he assumed the chairmanship of SLFP.

In contrast to the general elections in 2013, the 2015 general elections saw the UPFA led by Maithripala and the united UNF led by Ranil Wickramsinghe had retained its parliamentary majority until October 26, 2018.

The pragmatic policies implemented by Sirisena and Ranil Wickramsinghe government have gone much further than the policies that the two parties (UPFA and UNF) envisioned. The good governance reform from 2015-2018 have reworked the idea of moderate political, economic and social policies and to accommodate new methods in resolving the ethnic problem through a home grown solution. This president –prime minister’s strategy succeeded for reasons that have nothing to do with ideological or non-nationalism realignment to bring about a reconciliation process among the ethnic communities living in Sri Lanka.

During Sirisena’s last period especially in 2018, there was too much distrust built among the coalition partners of UNP and SLFP. These problems stem from the top, the new party PPJ led by Mahinda, a break-away fraction from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) played the role of a broker and was building his reputation among the SLFP vote bank. This also led to a situation where the SLFPs to work together with the UNPs in consolidating the coalition government. Further, loss in efficiency due to the widespread distribution of responsibilities among the coalition cabinet members and the loss in the recent council elections led to the collapse of UNP-UNF coalition government.

SLFP has come long way since 1957. A stable party system in Sri Lanka is a crucial element in consolidating democracy. The political development of the SLFP for over six decades had created a strong voter base especially in rural areas of Sri Lanka.

Hence, SLFP’s policies are today inadequate to deliver Sri Lankan citizen’s interests. SLFP policy makers must craft a new strategy to tackle the domestic voter base and the international community in finding a future path to become a formidable party in taking Sri Lanka to the next level of soci0-economic growth.

* Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.

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