Alarm at growth of Arab-backed 'madrassas'

INDIA

The government has set up a task force to investigate the thousands of "madrassas" (Muslim religious schools) that have sprung up all over the mainly Hindu country.

The inquiry will focus on madrassas that refuse government aid and are not attached to state madrassa boards. Such schools are concentrated in the areas bordering Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Many of the privately-funded madrassas are said to rely on illegal "hawala" transfers - where money transferred is without any bank transactions - from Gulf countries. Even among state-regulated madrassas, there is evidence that many are being used to fuel fundamentalism. Following the recent terrorist attack on the Indian parliament, the government is putting pressure on state madrassas to modernise their syllabuses and teach more than just the Koran. Those that fail to toe the line will lose their funding.

In the past few years many madrassas have sprung up along the border in sensitive states such Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal and Rajasthan. For instance, the government estimates there are 7,000 madrassas in Bihar of which only 1,300 are affiliated to the government board.

An organisation with Saudi Arabian ties, the Barua Rahamani Education Society, has set up 109 madrassas in the past five years in West Bengal. A twist is given to lessons at these madrassas. For instance, in drills for the Bengali alphabet for the letter "dh" there is a picture of a drum (dhol in Bengali) with the line dhol tabla-e khodar la'nat ("God's curse be on music").

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