ALL too often, militancy is linked to madressah students or graduates or to young people with little education. Many have observed that madressah students and other young people are led to believe that salvation in the hereafter lies in killing for a cause, thus suggesting the presence of those who want to exploit a situation for their own interests. And there are multitudes across the country fit to be exploited. These multitudes are, arguably, more dangerous than those who use them for their own ends.
Only a handful of individuals are required to exploit the multitudes, and their presence is permanent in a massive population of over 200 million. However, their designs would fail if they cannot find those who are ‘fit to be exploited’. The solution, then, would appear to lie in restricting the numbers of those ‘fit to be exploited’, while trying to check the designs of the exploiters.
There are a number of reasons why people are rendered ripe for exploitation by self-serving masterminds — illiteracy, poor education and wrong teachings are just one aspect. Injustice and non-egalitarian policies and inequitable development funding also serve to produce this category of people.
If we take the example of madressah students and graduates alone, the question arises why they went to madressahs in the first place. Was it a choice or compulsion for them and their parents? The madressahs provide them not only with a modicum of education but food and shelter as well, and because they are so poor, they desperately need food and shelter, if not education. Had the state arranged for their food, shelter and education, it is most likely that these individuals would not have enrolled in a madressah. Therefore, for a significant majority of madressah-goers and madressah alumni, the religious seminary is not a choice but a compulsion.
Imagine 300,000 semi-educated youth with few prospects of jobs.
The state’s failure to enrol children in conventional schools has left a vacuum. Madressah owners have filled this by enrolling some of the out-of-school children. The numbers reveal the real problem. A truly credible count of madressahs (registered and unregistered) is hard to come by but even conservative estimates put their number at around 30,000 across the country.
Now assume that each madressah on average produces 10 graduates per year. This means 300,000 graduates per year who can only serve in mosques. Over a 10-year period, the number will grow to 3m. Obviously, a lot of the graduates will remain without jobs — as indicated recently by the army chief — and, therefore, fall into the ‘fit to be exploited’ category. Add to this number the out-of-school children who enter the labour market minus significant education and skills — they, too, are ‘fit to be exploited’ — and the figures make you dizzy.
If such people, especially madressah students and graduates, receive a call for a sit-in or even to kill, many are likely to say ‘yes’, because they have learned at the religious school that obedience to the leader is a crucial part of the faith.
To address the situation, society has to make the madressah students and graduates, and those without an education, employable. To achieve this end, students must be imparted conventional education, compulsory for all until Grade 12.
Achieving this goal requires resources that are difficult to find under the development model we have followed over the past 70 years, and referred to as the ‘brick-and-mortar’ paradigm by Dr Nadeem ul Haque, former Planning Commission chairman.
To find these resources, one has only to examine the consequences of leaving the multitudes uneducated or barely educated. Much has been written on whether the ongoing youth bulge will yield dividends or prove to be a curse. With young adults entering the labour force uneducated and unskilled or at best barely educated and barely skilled, one can easily imagine how many in this youth bulge will fall prey to the designs of exploiters.
If the authorities and policymakers pay close attention to the repercussions, which are already evident, of leaving people uneducated and unskilled, they will not find it difficult to reconfigure their list of priorities.
In the process of rearranging our priorities, we can tell ourselves that we have lived without motorways and metros for several decades, and to educate our children and prevent them from falling prey to the designs of exploiters, we can do without these conveniences for another decade or two. In short, the development paradigm must switch from overemphasis on the hardware of society to its software, ie human capital and institutions.
Finally to kick-start the process of change, the first step would be to stop using the religious lobby as a pawn in national politics.