The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the Indian state of Maharashtra has de-recognised madrassas which only educate students on Islam without offering subjects such as maths and science. The government has said that if a Hindu or Christian child wants to study in a madrassa, they will not be allowed to study there. Thus, “the madrassa is not a school but a source of religious education”. While the reasoning seems sound, that to qualify as a school the madrassa needs to teach subjects that are taught in schools, the decision has caused outrage from Muslims and opposition parties in the state. The Maharashtra government plans to conduct a survey for a head count of students in the state who are being taught in the informal education sector. These students will be marked as “out of school.” The issue will degenerate and be seen as another step by the BJP towards the harassment of Muslims. Yet, reports say that the BJP-led state government asked Madrassas in the state to include more subjects to continue getting government funds. It is not that they are calling all madrassas non-schools, but only those whose sole focus is religious education.

This is not to clear the BJP of blame. This is India, not Pakistan, where madrassa education is often preferred. The madrassa fills the gap where the government has been lacking. If there were modern schools in Muslim areas, there would me fewer madrassas being used as replacements for schooling. When a minority is already oppressed, and clearly feels oppressed, the government has to take a softer stance. This will only cause more hatred and divide.

The Maharahstra government announced that madrasas had to teach English, maths, science and social science to be eligible for state grants, and minority leaders have to be open to this, and make sure a route towards mainstreaming is taken. They must make sure that they do not fall victim to their own systematic oppression by Hinduvta, and continue to have space in Indian politics. Children who do not know English, maths or science, cannot be expected to compete in the job market, or learn technical skills at the university level. By its own insistence on the madrassa, Muslim communities may give up a future piece of the pie.

Imagine a convent only teaching Christianity to students, operating on taxpayer money, calling itself a school? Would Pakistanis stand for that? We need to take a lesson from the case. In India such policies can be made that openly tackle the issue of madrassa education (alternative motives considered). In Pakistan, it is almost taboo to even talk about it. If alternative education must continue, it should be made competitive and practically useful to a student. One can learn to be a good Muslim without going to a madrassa, but one cannot learn algebra without going to school.