The Information Minister’s bitter but truthful words about madrassas could have started a revolution but that was obviously not to be. He was eventually made to eat almost all of those words in the Senate. His PML-N mates are now licking from the ground the remaining essence of what he said. The fatwa-spewing maulanas, foaming at the mouth for being shown the mirror, have been pacified at the cost of truth.

After much groveling to the incensed maulanas and many clarifications, this is what the official version has come down to: The Information Minister’s remarks were confined to only 3 to 4 percent of madrassas involved in spreading militancy and the rest of them are not centers of ignorance. Surely, the government will have to do better than this to reform the seminaries and rescue the poor children trapped in their dehumanizing universe.

One wonders where the figure of 3 to 4 percent came from and what amounts to ignorance in the PML-N government’s eye. Has it even bothered to evaluate what is taught at these madrassas before giving a certificate of respectability to the remaining 96 to 97 percent of them? At the end of the day, the government’s weak-kneed response to the bigoted fury of the clergy has only added more power to their otherwise waning nuisance.

Does a madrassa spread militancy only if it hands out guns to its students? What about the medieval and sectarian texts and courses with which innocent minds are brainwashed into hatred and superstition? Are there not seeds of extremism and violence embedded in what is taught to them, seeds that easily sprout into militancy when put into an enabling environment? Were the bulk of our madrassas not designed by the empire and its Middle Eastern royal proxies to serve as nurseries to feed its terrorist machine?

By dishing out dogmas manufactured by men as God’s message, by focusing on the memorization of sectarian texts and quoting the Qur’an in fragments to prove their petty points, by teaching intolerance and self-righteousness to their students, aren’t the madrassahs brewing a recipe for fitna and fasad in our society? In the name of Islam, aren’t they promoting what it clearly forbids?

Besides, countering actual militancy might be the most urgent concern in the drive to reform the madrassas under the National Action Plan, but it cannot be the only one. While strict action should be taken against madrassas directly propagating and abetting acts of terrorism, the curricular and extra-curricular activities of every madrassa must be brought under the microscope of scrutiny. After all, the problem goes much deeper than handing out guns and various shades of ignorance, extremism and militancy feed each other.

They say there are some 20,000 seminaries in our country and there are hundreds of young children enrolled in most of them. These children figure nowhere on the government’s radar, although it is the future of these hundreds of thousand children from less-privileged families, that should form the basis of a comprehensive reform of madrassas. What are they being taught and at whose behest? What are they used for and how are they abused?

These children are the collective responsibility of our society and we must not leave them to the mercy of professional peddlers of faith who fill their innocent minds with ignorance and prejudice. We must not leave them to be used by them as fodder for their convoluted political agendas and to be abused by them in myriad ways. When we talk about reforming the madrassas, we should not think only about countering militancy but also coming to the rescue of children trapped in them.

For surely there are many problems with the conduct of our madrassas, and they are not confined to just 3 to 4 percent of them. It is not just the physical punishments, the learning by rote and the harsh environments that the children are subjected to. It is not just the fact that little children are herded to participate in violent protests they’re too young to understand. It’s not just the snuffing out of growing minds and a denial of curiosity and critical thinking to children. Together with the blatant and latent support for militancy, it adds up to quite a bit.

The government policy betrays the children being slow-poisoned in the seminaries and makes it more difficult to hold those responsible for poisoning them to account. Madrassas are kosher as long as they are not caught handing out guns and facilitating terrorists, it seems to say. The government is too busy pandering to professional clerics to give a thought to their victims. It is yet to come up with a plan to rehabilitate the students of madrassas, not even those 3 to 4 percent that are supposed to be involved in spreading militancy.

According to a newspaper report, initial investigations by the Punjab government have revealed 147 foreign-funded seminaries operating in its jurisdiction, and the KP government has found 145 ‘highly-sensitive’ seminaries in the province. While this might be the tip of the ice-berg, the government is unprepared even to deal with the fall-out of these revelations. Is it just going to close down these seminaries and tell the children to go home? What about the other madrassas and their students?

Has the government instituted a task force comprising non-professional Muslims, to look into the curricula being taught at madrassas? Or does it expect the professional maulanas and maulvis running these centers of ignorance and hatred to point out their criminal flaws themselves? Has it created incentives for madrassas to move away from their medieval sectarian courses and introduce the curriculum taught in government schools?

If we don’t want foreign organizations funding our madrassas and propagating violent and extremist sectarian ideologies through them, shouldn’t we be funding them to spread basic education? Shouldn’t the government create a budget for supporting seminaries that agree to reform themselves? But then, it is too busy building motorways and metro-bus lanes, flyovers and underpasses, to think about the imperiled future of hundreds of thousand poor children and the repercussions of its short-sighted policy on our society.