GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Implications of Gulf charities in the educational system in South Asia (India, Pakistan and Afghanistan)
Paper Proposal Text :

One of the most prominent targets of political attacks, particularly after 9/11, has been the madarsas of South Asia. Their misuse of the liberal charities given by the Gulf governments and civil society organizations has been linked to international terrorism. They have been suspected to foster anti-western, traditionalist or even fundamentalist views and to train al-Qaeda fighters. This has led to subjective conceptions about madarasa education in general and its role in South Asia in particular. Government policies to modernize and ‘pacify’ madrasas have been seen as precipitous and mostly inadequate.

The role the madrasas have played in the socio-political dynamics of South Asia goes beyond the training of terrorists and being anti-West. Madarsas were institutions in colonial India that became central assembly points for Muslims. The imbibed educational, political and social changes in other countries and developed their own dynamics vis-à-vis the ever encroaching state responding to local skirmishes between local factions competing for scarce resources “from below”. Madarasas offer free education, often for students with meagre provisions, and provide learning which seems to be tailored to the surrounding culture. They traditionally earn their income from the local or regional charities, also politicians and foreign donors.

Politically, they have played an important role in shaping Muslim identity in the region. For scholars who trace the genealogy of the Islamic state, Maududi, arguably the most influential ideologue of Islamism in the twentieth century, interpreted Islam to equate it with the state. However, his strongest opposition came from the Darul Uloom Deoband, the biggest and most influential madarsas in the region. It was the grass-root madarsas that opposed the idea of partition, as a consequence of which the larger Muslim population chose to stay back in India.

Since then, the madarsas in the region have had a political potential that has been used to bring about more than local socio-political change. They have grown to become the one of the most important variables of change in the region. What began as a vehicle for change in colonial India, grew to becoming a tool for political and social manipulation by local, regional and international players over time. The madarsas were the most effective grounds recruiting and training the mujahedeen to oppose the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. After the cold war, it was the madarsas that was used by the government agencies of Pakistan to gain strategic depth in Afghanistan vis a vis India. In India too, the madarsas have become the central target for the radical right wing hindutva forces. It is by targeting the madarsas that the fundamentalist lobby is able to exclude and marginalize the disadvantaged poor muslim population in India.

As the largest source of funding for the madarsas comes from the Gulf charities, the scope for corruption and political manipulation of the funds is multiplied manifold. The charities usually do not seek a political or economic accountability/ audit, allowing for the corruption in the three countries has been instrumental in diverting the funds to vested interests.

This paper, while highlighting the political misuse of madarsas by fundamentalists, corrupt politicians, state forces, external players and vested interests, proposes that the solution to the problem posed does not lie in the simple auditing of funds to the madarsas. The processes of checks and reforms that are being worked on by international and multilateral agencies from across the world, would achieve limited success. Corruption and administrative mismanagement in these countries would be a major stumbling block for any agency trying to bring about gainful change. A long term solution would need to include a revision of the curriculum of the madarsas and a process of involvement of the mainstreamed Muslims in the countries into the management of the institution. The reason for both the steps emanates from the fact that political and administrative apparatus in the three countries lack the political will, and would rather be focussed on short term results than on long term gains that could be achieved by reforms. Rather than invest economic and human capital in bringing about positive change in the institution, the administrative and political forces in these countries, would work towards either quashing the institutions as a whole or using them as tools to suppress the weaker sections of the population.