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21 February 2009

Shed A Tear For Orissa

The state has every material it takes to be developed but no human element to make the best of it
Sanket Dash
Orissa is one of the most ill-known states of India. For starters, it is located in the south-east corner of India, measures around 150,000 sq km in size, and has a population of 35 million. It is among India's top 2 states in mineral wealth with plentiful deposits of iron ore, bauxite, chromite, and coal. It has a lower population density , higher rainfall (per sq cm) and a lower population growth than the Indian average. Despite, all this, it is one of the poorest states of the country, with the highest infant mortality rates, second highest rate of poverty and second lowest per capita income.

Orissa, or more accurately Odissa, should be on paper one of India's richest states. It is India's first language-based state with 85% of people speaking Odiya as the mother tongue. Blessed with abundant mineral resources, a coastline and sufficient forest and water resources, it also boasts of a cultural history thousands of years old. Orissa has existed as a political entity for the best part of 1,000 years (a large number of years in paper) as the Gajapati of Puri was the acknowledged overlord of all feudatory kings of Orissa. In terms of religion, most Oriyas are followers of Jagannatha and Jagannatha Dharma , a syncretic combination of Shaiva, Shakta and Vaishnava traits. The numbers of Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists in Orissa are quite less. The state does have a high percentage of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and, in several tribal dominated areas, 'Hindu'-Christian clashes have occurred. Nevertheless, the state has been more or less communally stable. Alcoholism and female foeticide have very low prevalence. Orissa has some of the best architectural wonders of India (Konark, Lingaraja, Huma, etc) alonng with some of the natural ones (Chillika, Simlipal, Bhitarakanika, etc).

The state of Orissa does not seem to lag in human potential. Despite the low level of urbanisation, Odiyas have bagged top posts in Indian Administrative Services, reputedly India's toughest public examination, no less than 4 times in 62 years, that is, around 6% of the times while it contributes only 3.5% to India's population. From 1960 to 1980, Oriyas routinely captured 10% of IAS posts.

If Orissa is still a backward state, its universal backwardness can be attributed to three reasons. The first is the lack of a strong economic base. During the Mughal rule and afterwards during the British rule, a greater part of the surplus in Orissa went to Bengal. During the Maratha rule, the surplus went to Nagpur. Hence, there were no indigenous super-rich families in Orissa. The rajahs of Orissa ruled over small territories and could not be compared with the Nizams or the Maharajahs of Baroda, Gwalior and Mysore. The absence of wealth led to the non-development of industrial enterprises or plantation farming.

A bigger problem is the lack of cultural solidarity and ambitious thinking on the part of the Oriya population. A feeling of cultural inferiority inhibits cultural solidarity. It is natural to see that the first generation of Oriyas living outside Orissa have lost their language. The history of Orissa is given no space in Indian textbooks and there is no protest for the glaring omission. No one gives a damn if great Oriya leaders like Madhusudan Das and Gopabandhu Das are not considered among the top 100 people in India (I don't think their contributions were in any way inferior to, say, that of Tilak, Gokhale, Surendranath Bannerjee, or Lala Lajpat Rai). As a result, unlike, say, the Gujaratis, Oriyas are not able to build trade links throughout the world or even throughout the country. The people in general have no big dreams - either personally or collectively. Among India's top 100 business houses, there is not a single business house based in Orissa. Orissa has not produced a single Bharat Ratna and has only one Padma Vibhushana - that given to Odissi exponent Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra. 12 members are appointed by the President of India to Rajya sabha for contributions to art, science and society. Till date, not even a single Oriya has been nominated for the same.

The cultural inferiority feeling asserts itself as an inordinate superiority feeling towards non-standard dialects of Orissa. Most Odiya dictionaries do not have even a single word from Sambalpuri (Katakiya and Sambalpuri are the two main dialects of Odissa based in coastal Orissa and western Orissa respectively). This has led to justified demands for a separate state. Corruption in Orissa is endemic but the worst thing is that people don't do things once the money is paid. They accept ଖୋସାମତି/khosammati, an Oriya word which means begging them for favour. In Bhubaneswar, no service centre of any company provides even the elementary level of service required by them.

An equally important (and a corollary to the above mentioned) reason is the lack of political power. The Congress has always under-represented the state. Under successive Congress governments in the state, it was not uncommon to see that Orissa does not have even a single Cabinet-level minister in the Union Government. The same situation is seen now. Giridhar Gamang, a 9-time MP and former Chief Minister of Orissa, well-known for his loyalty towards the Nehru-Gandhi family — despite being a CM, he went to the Lok Sabha to vote against the BJP-led NDA Government in 1998 and his vote was the crucial one which led to the fall of the government — non-corrupt nature, and administrative ability, has not been made a minister although he could be said to be deserving of a Cabinet Minister rank by any reckoning.

When the tariff equalisation proposal was passed, it hurt Orissa the most as Orissa lacked both an enterpreneurial class and the requisite capital. If minerals cost the same in Orissa as they cost in Gujarat, why would a Gujarati investor build his plant in Orissa and not in Gujarat? However, the Congress hardly ever protested against this decision.

Orissa has been a rice-surplus state for ages. Nevertheless, when the Hirakud dam was built, the Centre in its wisdom decided that Odiyas were not competent enough to farm in irrigated lands and invited tens of thousands of Telugus to teach us farming. Today, Telugus occupy the best portions of the land in Bargarh, which was the prime beneficiary of the Hirakud project.

The Congress Government did not build a single IIT or IIM or Central University in Orissa. The Centre assumed and the state acquiesced in the theory that Orissa was not fit for a Green Revolution based on false arguments that the land was too rocky, for example. Orissa produced 260 kg/person of food-grain in 1980 compared to the national average of 200 kg/person. I don't know, the current state. But Orissa has among the lowest amount of irrigated land (as percentage of the total land within its boundaries) and lowest fertilizer usage per hectare. Orissa is under-served by railways. Even in terms of steel plants, the capacity installed by the state is far less than the capacity served by the state's iron and core mines.

Orissa has one of the lowest ratios of doctors per 100,000 people. Yet a CM of Orissa, in his infinite wisdom, decided to reduce the number of medical seats in Orissa by 20% (from 150 to 120 in each of the 3 state-run colleges). The current health indicators are no surprise. Lakhs of Bangladeshis have come and occupied thousands of acres of fertile land. It is the illegal Bangladeshis who have ensured that the POSCO project remains unstuck. Naxalism imported from Andhra, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh is more dangerous in Orissa today than its parent states.

Orissa is and, to all appearances, will remain one of India's most backward states. Lack of cultural solidarity, which stems from ignorance about and lack of pride in one's culture, lack of enterpreneurship, a Union Government perennially against Orissa's interests and a State governemnt which has given up its mandate to work for Orissa's prosperity ensure that no order course of action is possible.

The writer is a Hyderabad-based analyst currently working with a multinational company

20 February 2009

Mad Rush Certificates

That is what the Government of India is up to issuing, by proposing to deem certifications by madrassahs and the CBSE equivalent
Nithin Sridhar

The Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry plans to set up a Central Madrassa Board on the lines of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), HRD Minister Arjun Singh said on Tuesday.

This would help modernise the education imparted by the Islamic seminaries across the country, the minister said.

"There has been a long pending demand to set up Central Madrassa Board on lines of the CBSE. We are considering it. A bill in this regard will be introduced in the next session of Parliament," he said.

Arjun Singh told the annual conference of State Minorities Commissions: "Madrassa education has received special attention in (my) ministry. Recently I approved recommendations regarding equivalence of madrassa qualification to the CBSE certificates.

— "Arjun Singh for Central Madrassa Board," IBN story

The Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry is ready to grant مدرسة‎/madrassah certificates, equivalent to those issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). This recommendation was made by the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee, which was appointed by the ministry to review the status of minorities. These suggestions also find mention in the Prime Minister's 15-point programme for minorities. As per the recommendation, students can also approach Madrassah Boards of other states to get their certificates have recognition equivalent to a CBSE certificate, if the states they are domiciled in do not have their own Madrassah Boards.

A committee appointed in 2007 had proposed to recognise عالم/Alim (Muslim theologian) degrees offered by madrassahs for admissions into the BA course. فاضل/fAzil (Honours) degrees were also proposed to be recognised for admissions to postgraduate programmmes. Even though 350,000 madrassah students will be benefited from this decision, this move by the government appears to be political rather than an academic enterprise.

Madrassahs are centres of Islamic learning. Although some madrassahs teach secular subjects like logic, language (Arabic through the medium of Urdu), Islamic history, calligraphy, geography, etc, in general they have a religion-based curriculum, focusing on the Qur’an and other Islamic texts. They do not train students in modern science, technology and value systems. The major difference between madrassahs and regular schools is that the education imparted in madrassahs is not enough to qualify the students for employment in modern-day offices. Recently, the Uttar Pradesh Board of Madarssah Education (UPBME) banned coeducation in madarssahs across the state, saying it was against the ‘spirit of Islam’. “In Islam, پردہ/pardah (veil) is very important. By allowing coeducation, we promote بے پردگی/'bE-pardagI' (women without veil), which is against '‎شريعة/Shari'at”, UPBME Chairman Haji Rizwan Haq said. Such actions will only hinder the modernisation of madrassahs and preclude the way to bringing them up to the modern educational standards.

The genesis of madrassahs in south Asia is attributable to the Delhi Sultanate. The original purpose of the madrassah was to equip the youth for administrative services of the Sultanate. Since the decline and eventual cessation of Muslim rule in India, the graduates of madrassahs do not have job opportunities at places where the writ of the أمة‎/ummah doesn’t run, apart from a handful of madrassah graduates who continue their studies in departments of Islamics, Arabic or Urdu in some of the modern Indian universities. The more accomplished of these graduates from dual systems of education get absorbed in universities; the rest remain content with either teaching in the fast mushrooming madrassahs (government-aided or independent) or become religious heads (euphemised wrongly as إمام/imAms) of the equally fast growing mosques.

Two of the famous Islamic institutions of India are "Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband" and "Dar-ul-Uloom Nadwat-ul Ulama, Lucknow". The first has a comprehensive syllabus. It consists of 4 stages — primary, middle, high and specialisation courses. In the primary syllabus, students are taught Urdu/Hindi, geography, Arabic grammar and composition. The Nadwat-ul-Ulama of Lucknow also brought about certain far-reaching changes in the traditional curriculum of the قومی مدرسۃ/Qaumi Madrassahs (lit. “national schools" or "community schools”) of India, in response to the changed circumstances and needs of the time. The primary five years cover complete primary education as prescribed for general schools besides giving a sound religious base to its students.

But there are many madrassahs which are not affiliated to these central boards; they give more importance to Islamic subjects, in some cases completely ignoring secular subjects. There is an absence of a centralised agency to exercise control on all madrassahs. Hence some madrassahs follow their own designated syllabus which is a hindrance for smooth functioning and standardising of quality education. There is a lack of modern teaching methodology in about all big and small madrassahs. In order to provide appropriate leadership and guidance, madrassahs must give particular stress to the learning of the English language, which at present is absent. In short, there is lack of ability in its alumni to cope with the challenges of modern world.

Further, some experts also suggest that a small group of radicalised madrassahs, especially those located in border areas, promote extremist forms of Islam. According to the Task Force on Border Management, there are 905 mosques and 439 madrassahs along the India-Bangladesh border on the Indian side. A detailed Indian intelligence report issued some years ago claimed that some madrassahs were functioning as training grounds for anti-Indian elements. The report went on to suggest that مفتي‎/muftIs, مولوی/maulvIs and imAms in these schools may have been replaced by what it calls "highly fanatic agents of ISI", secretly working to disintegrate India. In May 2001, a ministerial group for the "reform of internal security" headed by the then Indian Home Minister LK Advani, released a 137-page report that recommended, among other measures, a close scrutiny of madrassahs.

Under such circumstances, the decision to grant CBSE equivalence to madrassah graduation certificates is unwise. It appears to be a politically motivated step. Abdullah Khan in countercurrents.org writes: “Before this proposal is introduced, a lot needs to be done at the madrassah level to put it on a par with mainstream schools. An equivalent certificate could make madrassah students 'eligible' to apply for jobs, but will not ensure they get jobs in a competitive environment unless the curriculum is modernised. Because most of the madrassahs in India teach purely theological subjects and not modern subjects."

Few have welcomed the present step, aiming as it does at enriching the Islamic heritage of India by mainstreaming Islamic studies. But why the government has not thought of supporting and encouraging ‘Hindu’ studies is a question that must be asked. Why is there no such step towards mainstreaming वैदिक पाठशाला/Vedic pAThshAlAs and Sanskrit pAThshAlAs? Why the traditional gurukula system has almost vanished?

Instead of vote-bank politics, government should concentrate on improving the education system of India. It should make religion a compulsory subject in primary and high schools. Students may study any religion, if they want to. Hindu students can learn their own religion and culture and Muslim students can learn Islam; and both learn their respective theologies along with mathematics and science. The curricula may be designed in a manner such that at the primary level one can study one's own religion and in high school they can study comparative religions. Besides, religious schools of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and others can be instructed to have such curricula where, along with detailed religious studies, modern subjects are included. In this direction, modernisation of madrassahs is necessary to bring them on par with secular schools. Only after this can the madrassah and CBSE certificates be deemed equivalent. Further, such a provision should be provided for Vedic and Sanskrit pAThshAlAs too.
The writer is a Mysore-based student of civil engineering

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.