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Published:November 6th, 2010 08:23 EST

Public Universities in Bangladesh Discriminate Against Madrasa Students

By SOP newswire2

This year again madrasa students have shown excellent results in the Kha-unit admission test of Dhaka University. Students securing 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th positions are all from madrasa education. Their scores in English and Bangla are also very high. Nevertheless, the admission rules of the University do not allow them to study a number of subjects, such as: Bangla, English, Journalism, Economics, Linguistics, International Relations, Public Administration and Women and Gender Studies.

The recurrent commendable results of madrasa students at the entry point and their subsequent good performance at Dhaka and other universities of the country counteract any argument that they are poor in Bangla or English. There has not been even a single complaint against madrasa students that they were performing badly in comparison to their college counterparts. There are a number of teachers at DU from madrasa backgrounds not only in the Departments of Arabic and Islamic Studies, but also in more general ones. More surprisingly, there are teachers with madrasa backgrounds in almost all these departments that are trying to prevent madrasa students from studying these subjects.

The argument that madrasa students do not study 200-mark syllabus in Bangla and English each which their HSC counterparts do and consequently the former must be less competent in these two subjects does not hold true now, as we all understand that madrasa students do not lag behind their college peers in these two subjects. The only credible, though unfortunate and unstated, reason for barring madrasa students from studying these subjects is an unhealthy prejudice against them. And, isn`t it surprising that the ghost of this prejudice is harbored by so-called "liberal intellectuals` of Dhaka University? Doesn`t this point to the limitation of the conventional education system that does not necessarily cure the racist attitudes of a number of secular scholars in academia?

Another reason behind barring madrasa students from entering public universities altogether can be an ill-motivated design to discourage them from choosing the religious stream of education. Such a strategy is highly ineffectual, to say the least. The quomi stream of madrasa education has continued for about two centuries without any government patronage or employment opportunity whatsoever. Bigwigs in the upstairs at Dhaka University may not appreciate the religious sensibilities of the people, but the fact of the matter is that parents will continue to send their children to madrasas despite hostile admission rules of public universities. We need to remember that madrasa education serves both religious and utilitarian purposes.

The religious rationale is more obvious, as people who go to madrasas expect to please God through gaining a very good combination of Islamic and modern education. The utilitarian logic is not always appreciated. Many parents in rural Bangladesh cannot afford to send their children to mainstream schools that charge comparatively higher fees. So the poor parents find it more affordable to have their children educated at madrasas many of which are run by religious endowments and donations from the public.

I think it is important that we all raise our voice to stop this injustice on madrasa students. We should not forget that madrasa students are citizens of this independent country and are entitled to all civic rights that include equal educational opportunities. We should also remember that public universities are run by the people and for the people. Moreover, if the power wielders of Dhaka University cannot guarantee fairness and equal treatment, who will? If they cherish the ghost of prejudice in the heart, who will teach us to exterminate it? I am not surprised that our civil society and the so-called human rights pressure groups are silent about the extent of discrimination against madrasa students, as the latter do not fit in their agendas. However, I hope to continue writing for the underprivileged people whoever they are.

By Shimul Chaudhury