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Indian state cuts pay for some teachers in Muslim religious schools

Following the conclusion of a federal government program, authorities in the most populous state in India this week stopped paying certain teachers at Muslim religious institutions, known as madrasas, in disciplines including science and arithmetic.

Around 21,000 teachers in Uttar Pradesh may lose their funding as the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which assumed office in 2014, prepares to win a third consecutive term in the general elections that are scheduled for May.

India ceased supporting the initiative in March 2022, according to a document obtained by Reuters. Four years prior, the country had stopped approving new bids. However, the reason why the state government has only recently ceased making its portion of payments was not immediately apparent.

“The decision to stop this scheme will take us back to where we started,” Iftikhar Ahmed Javed, the chief of the state’s madrasa education board, told Reuters. “Muslim students and teachers will go back by 30 years.”

The office of Modi, whose government raised funding for the programme to a record of about 3 billion rupees ($36 million) in the fiscal year that ended in March 2016, did not respond to a request for comment.

India’s minority affairs ministry, which ran the programme until it was closed, also did not respond to an email.

Teachers in Uttar Pradesh had not received the federal government’s share of scheme payments for the last six years, Javed told Modi in a letter on Wednesday, urging its revival.

But they “were doing their work smoothly in the hope your kind heartedness would resolve the issue,” added Javed, who is also the national secretary of the Minority Front in Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Muslims are a minority in mainly Hindu India, accounting for about 14% of a population of 1.42 billion, and they make up nearly a fifth of the population of Uttar Pradesh, which is also run by the BJP.

Until now, the state paid a monthly sum of up to 3,000 rupees ($36), as well as up to 12,000 rupees from the federal government, to more than 21,200 madrasa teachers of subjects such as science, maths, social studies, Hindi and English.

A senior state information official offered no immediate comment on why Uttar Pradesh only halted payments this week.

The incident comes as authorities in the northeastern state of Assam, also ruled by the BJP, are converting hundreds of such Muslim religious schools into conventional schools, despite protests from the opposition and Muslim groups.

Many madrasas are funded by donations from members of the Muslim community.

Muslims and rights groups such as Human Rights Watch say nationalist groups have threatened and harassed religious minorities with impunity under the BJP, accusations the party denies.

The document, from the Ministry of Minority Affairs, shows Modi’s government did not approve any new proposals from states under the shuttered programme during the fiscal years 2017/18 to 2020/21, before closing it altogether in fiscal 2021/22.

Government data shows more than 70,000 madrasas were covered in the first six years of the programme, officially known as the scheme for providing quality education in madrasas and set up in 2009/10 by the previous government, run by the Congress party.

The programme benefited Muslim children, said Shahid Akhter, a member of a government panel on minority educational institutions.

“Even the prime minister wants children to have both Islamic and modern education,” he told Reuters. “I am already talking to officials to see that the scheme is retained.”

A possible reason for putting a halt to the funding was that a 2009 law ensuring free compulsory education for children covers regular government schools, Akhter added.

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Sydney Okafor

I am so passionate about this my profession as a broadcast journalist and voiceover artists and presently a reporter at TV360 Nigeria

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