India’s Hindu nationalist government funds madrasa reform

NEW DELHI: India´s new government announced $16.7 million in funding to modernise traditional Islamic religious schools in its maiden budget on Thursday which also included projects targeting its core Hindu nationalist base. Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced one billion rupees ($16.7 million) “for the modernisation of madrasas” in his two-hour budget speech to parliament.

India is home to an estimated 140 million Muslims, a group that has fallen behind in education, employment and economic status, according to a 2006 landmark government report. Madrasas, which are based on Quranic teachings, use Urdu or Arabic as the language of instruction and are mostly funded by Islamic charities.

Critics say they lack trained teachers and fail to equip their students to compete in the modern world when most middle-class Indian families are trying to get their children into English-medium schools.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was voted to power in May on a promise to improve India´s flagging economy and clean up corruption.

Jaitley also announced a fund of 20 billion rupees to clean up the polluted river Ganges, which is considered holy by Hindus, as well as one billion rupees for the development of steps they use to pray at sacred waterways. A rehabilitation fund for Hindus driven out of Muslim-majority Kashmir after the start of an anti-India insurgency there in 1989 was allotted five billion rupees, while a statue of Hindu nationalist hero Sardar Patel got two billion rupees.