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From Surveying Unrecognised Schools To Probing Foreign Funding, Uttar Pradesh Govt Keeps Madrasas Under Scanner

After surveying around 25,000 madrasas in Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi Adityanath-led state government initiated an investigation over the foreign funding to hundreds of madrasas, mainly in districts on the India-Nepal border.

Muslim children reciting verses from Islam's holy book Quran on the 13th day of Ramadan at a madrasa in Noida Photo: Getty Images
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For the past two years, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Uttar Pradesh government has launched multiple investigations into madrasas running in the state.

First, in 2022, the Yogi Adityanath-led UP government ordered a survey of around 25,000 madrasas —Islamic seminaries— in the state. The survey found that around a third of them were running without recognition from the government.

Then, in 2023, the UP government set up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe foreign funding to hundreds of madrasas. The SIT is being led by a counter-terrorism expert from UP Police and is particularly concerned with probing madrasas in districts along the India-Nepal border.

While the administration has invoked the issue of recognition and security to pursue these investigations, the critics have said the actions are geared towards targeting the Muslim community. It has also emerged that while the government survey found a third of all madrasas unrecognised in 2022, no process to grant them recognition has yet started. The government has also faced criticism from within its own quarters as the state-run UP Board of Madrasa Education has flagged the state education department for interfering madrasas when the madrasas are exclusively the domain of the board and not the education department.

UP Madrasa Survey: Govt's Reasoning And Report's Findings

In 2022, the UP government ordered a survey of all of the madrasas in the state. The stated reason behind the move was to check for recognition and the condition of the schooling with the intention to streamline their teaching and governance.

There were apprehensions at the time among madrasa operators with some of them quoted by PTI as saying at the time they feared their schools could be razed as part of the 'bulldozer action' of the state government. The Adityanath government, however, dismissed such fears. Danish Ansari, Minister of State for Minority Welfare, Muslim Waqf, and Haj, said at the time that the purpose of the survey was to lift the standards of the schools.

"Those expressing such an apprehension should tell if any madrassa was brought down by any bulldozer in the previous five years of the state government. The anxiety has no basis...The purpose of the survey is to know the actual condition of the madrassas and help these in lifting their standard...Relevant papers and forms regarding schemes for minority communities will be made available to them during the survey so that welfare schemes reach villages and towns deprived of them till now," said Ansari at the time.

In the report submitted on November 15, it was stated that 8,596 of around 25,000 madrasas were running without recognition in the state. Around 6.65 lakh students were enrolled in these unrecognised institutions.

At the time the report's findings came to light, ABP News reported that the state government would next focus on the finances of the madrasas.

"During the survey conducted, when asked about the source of funds for running of madrasas, 90 per cent of the madrasas said that their source of funds is primarily from donations received from nearby communities and the government will now probe these sources," reported ABP News.

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UP Madrasa Foreign Funding Investigation

Following the survey of all the madrasas in the state in 2022, the UP government in 2023 constituted a special investigation team (SIT) to look into the foreign funding of these madrasas.

The government's stated reason behind the move was to check the opacity of operation of some madrasas, particularly in districts along the India-Nepal border. Minister for Minority Welfare Dharampal Singh said the government would act against "illegal" schools and that "kids from financially weaker sections of minority communities are lured into questionable activities".

"The government wants children of the minority community to get modern education. However, it has been found that many madrasas are getting funds from abroad. Due to this, kids from financially weaker sections of minority communities are lured into questionable activities. Following a probe, legal action will be taken against such madrasas...Madrasa management running on the UP-Nepal border is surprisingly parroting the same reply that they get funds from metro cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, and Hyderabad," said Singh.

Singh has further been quoted as saying that several madrasas along the India-Nepal border have reported zakat and donations as their chief source of funds, but that does not match ground realities.

"But survey teams found that people living in these areas are poor and not able to give zakat and donations. Such madrasas have been identified and directions issued for rechecking their source of funding. These madrasas were not revealing the names of those who give them such donations, he had said, adding that it appeared that the funds could be from outside," The Indian Express quoted Singh as saying.

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For these reasons, the SIT will investigate the money trail associated with the madrasas, with the districts of Siddharth Nagar, Bahraich, Shrawasti, Balrampur and Maharajganj being in particular focus, according to The Express. The SIT is headed by Mohit Agarwal, Additional Director General (ADG), Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS).

Agarwal told The Express, "During the probe, we will check the accounts of madrasas which are receiving funds from abroad. We will see how the money received through foreign funding is spent. Is the money used to run the madrasas or for any other activities."

In a later report, The Express cited preliminary investigation of the SIT as finding that around 80 madrasas received Rs 100 crore foreign funds from various locations around the world, particularly from West Asia and UK. The report said the exact source and the usage of the funds were being looked into.

"We will seek information from the caretakers of the madrasas about those who sent the money. If necessary, we will seek assistance from central agencies such as R&AW and IB to gather details. A report will be sent to central agencies for cooperation," the report quoted an officer as saying, adding that the madrasas would be asked to show how the funds were spent.

Separately, ETV Bharat cited sources to report that a Delhi-based NGO is also under the scanner that has donated around Rs 20 crore to the madrasas.

Allegations Of Harassment, Questions From Within Govt

While the UP government has maintained the investigations are part of bringing madrasas into the mainstream, questions have been raised from within the government and harassment has also been alleged.

In Muzaffarnagar, 12 madrasas were in October 2023 served notices by the state education department for running without recognition and were handed a fine of Rs 12,000 for every day of functioning without recognition, according to The Times of India.

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Iftikhar Ahmed Javed, Chairman of UP Board of Madrasa Education, said the notices were void as the madrasas were out of bounds for the state education department.

"No one, including the education department, has the right to interfere in madrassa matters. Only minority department can do it. Madrassas are not like ordinary schools. Hence, rules, penalty or fine for schools cannot be applied to seminaries. In fact, in 1995, madrassas were separated from schools' rules and regulations," said Javed, who is also the National Secretary of the BJP Minority Front.

Even as the government investigates foreign funding of madrasas, Javed has flagged corrective measures for unrecognised madrasas are not yet being initiated. In November 2023, he wrote to CM Yogi Adityanath to request the starting of the process, according to The Economic Times, which further reported that madrasa managers have cited harassment by the state government.

"Madrasa managers have been alleging harassment by government departments over the unrecognised status of these madrasas, which has cast a shadow on the repute of these seminaries that play a crucial role in imparting education to poor and backward or Pasmanda Muslims," reported ET.

The paper quoted Javed as saying that the lack of such a process is affecting the education of around 7.5 lakh students. The report further said that the recognition of these madrasas is expected to start once the government's ongoing investigation into the foreign funding of madrasas is complete. Earlier, however, it was reported that such recognition was to start after the completion of the initial madrasa survey.

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Moreover, Javed last year flagged that the survey's report was being kept away from him, according to IANS.

The news agency further quoted Javed as critising his own party's government for "cheap politics".

"Eleven months have passed since the investigation into the functioning of madras was conducted. What happened to the report? Was it presented in the Assembly or brought into the public domain? If not, then who spread the misinformation on foreign funding of madrasas?...First, the ruling party indulged in cheap politics in the name of investigation into the running of madrasas. Now, there is talk of a probe into madrasas on the Nepal border amid allegations that they are running on foreign funds. A high-level meeting on this will be held in Lucknow and chaired by the ATS (anti-terrorist squad) chief," the agency quoted Javed as saying.

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