Madrasa teachers in Uttar Pradesh face bleak future as government stops honorarium after abolishing regular salaries

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Photo courtesy: Newsclick

By Our Correspondent

LUCKNOW—Over 21,000 teachers of madrasas in Uttar Pradesh, who were appointed to the Islamic seminaries under the Union Government’s ambitious ‘Madrasa Modernisation Scheme’ launched in 1993-94, are facing a bleak future with the State Government stopping their monthly honorarium. The teachers had earlier stopped getting regular salaries from the Centre in 2017 after several months of irregular payment.

About 40% of these teachers belong to the Hindu community and the rest are Muslims. Having been enrolled in the scheme, which was renamed as the Scheme to Provide Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM), they were teaching nearly 10 lakh students at roughly 7,500 madrasas in the modern subjects, such as Mathematics, Science, Social Sciences and Hindi. This was in addition to the religious education imparted to students in the madrasas.

The Union Government stopped funding the SPQEM in March 2022, even though its operations had been transferred to the Ministry of Minority Affairs. The Narendra Modi Government did not approve any new proposals from the states under the scheme between the financial years 2017-18 and 2020-21, before abolishing it altogether.

The Union and the State Governments had earlier agreed to bear expenses for the SPQEM in a 60:40 ratio. Each madrasa appointed three teachers, who were paid Rs. 6,000 to Rs. 12,000 as monthly salaries. After several teachers complained about the salary payments being irregular, the State Government in 2016 started paying them monthly honorariums of Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 3,000.

When the teachers stopped receiving their salaries altogether in 2017, the meagre amount paid by the Uttar Pradesh Government as honorarium became their only source of income. The teachers started a protest at Eco Garden in Lucknow’s Alambagh area on December 18, 2023, demanding their pending salaries, but they suffered a huge blow when the State Government announced its decision last week to stop paying the honorariums.

Hundreds of madrasa teachers from across Uttar Pradesh are camping in Lucknow and staging a protest with the demand for release of the pending salaries and restoration of the regular salary structure. The agitating teachers said the decision to discontinue the honorarium had added an insult to their injury.

After spending so many years in imparting education to the madrasa students, most of whom come from a poor background, the teachers will be unable to find any other job. Their demand for withdrawal of the decision to scrap the honorariums and the release of the pending salaries has found support with the Muslim community in Uttar Pradesh as well as the public at large.

The Opposition parties and the activists in the Muslim community have described the Bharatiya Janata Party Government’s decision to discontinue the SPQEM as a malicious move to disparage the madrasa education system, which provides both religious and secular education to the community’s underprivileged children and takes care of their boarding and lodging arrangements.

Madrasas in Uttar Pradesh have been making headlines for the last two years with the BJP Government, led by Yogi Adityanath, launching a survey to identify the so-called unrecognized madrasas. The exercise led to the identification of about 8,500 such madrasas. Though no action was initiated against these Islamic seminaries, they were asked to get themselves affiliated with the U.P. Board of Madrasa Education.

The Board’s Chairman, Iftikhar Ahmed Javed, fears that the latest move to stop paying honorariums will adversely impact the education of madrasa students. He has requested both the Union and State Governments to resolve the issue at the earliest. ““Not only have these teachers lost employment, but lakhs of madrasa students are also in trouble as the annual examination is due in February-March. I have written to the Prime Minister and requested his intervention in the matter,” Javed said.

Though the government orders did not state any reason for discontinuing the SPQEM, the political analysts say that the decision was taken because of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, which ensures free education for the children and covers the government schools. The BJP probably wants that the madrasa students should gradually shift to the government schools and lose their religious identity.

Ironically, Prime Minister Modi has several times laid emphasis on the need for religion, technology and education to come together for the development of the nation. Modi affirmed at a conference on “Islamic Heritage: Promoting Understanding and Moderation” in New Delhi that his government was leaving no stone unturned in empowering the Muslim youth. “We want them to have the Quran in one hand and a computer in the other,” he said.

Javed, who is also the national secretary of the BJP Minority Morcha, said the Uttar Pradesh Government had not paid its share to the madrasa teachers since April and decided to stop paying altogether this month, while the Central portion had not been paid for six years. Despite this, the teachers were so far performing their duties diligently with the hope that the issue would be resolved.

Madrasas functioning across the country are funded by donations, including Zakat, from the Muslim community, while some of them depend on the government’s financial assistance. In the past, madrasas have also been facing the allegations of promoting radicalisation of young students through their study material and curriculum, though these charges were found to be false and unsubstantiated.

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