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Madrassas are mushrooming on the border between India and Nepal, the sole Hindu majority nations in South Asia.Why? Mayank Singh travels through the region laced with tension, to present a first-hand report on the new nursery of trouble
TSI | Issue Dated: April 22, 2007
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THE MAKERS OF FEAR What may be a decent way to progress in these times of growth? Modelling, software engineering, yoga, adventure sports and, maybe, talent hunts. But 1,110 madrassas in nine years at the Indo-Nepal border . . . It would seem that God is suddenly the best career option, or that the day of reckoning has arrived in a nondescript part of the sub-continent, making men fall to their knees five times a day.

Reality is evidently more somber. The astonishing spurt in the number of Muslim religious or quasi-religious institutions on the Indo-Nepal border is a cause of worry in the Union Home Ministry, making bureaucrats pore over numerous intelligence reports. Till end 2006, according to the reports, there were 1,454 mosques, 1,440 madrassas and 391 mosque-cum-madrassas in just a 10-km belt across the Indo-Nepal border. The conclusion is fairly simple: that India may have a brand new problem on its hands, and, typically, unable to do anything about it. The reports state that 1) The madrassas and mosques on the Indo-Nepal border could become fertile ground for indoctrinating militants; 2) India may find it impossible to tackle this potential terrorist nightmare in future without triggering a major crisis; 3) The rapid increase in the Muslim population in several districts along the border is not simply a coincidence; and 4) The people running these institutions are receiving funds from other countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.

Om Vikram Rana, Inspector-General, Nepal, told TSI, “Lawfully, we can’t stop the increase. We are suspicious of them and have them under surveillance”. The Indo-Nepal frontier is an open 1,751-km long border. It is contiguous to five States, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim. Citizens of both nations are free to move to and fro, under the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship, 1950. There are 20 districts along this border.

When TSI reached Badani, in Uttar Pradesh, the no-man’s land was barely 25 metres wide, with constructions lined on both sides facing each other. At another point, walking from Rupaidiha, Uttar Pradesh, to Nepalganj, TSI crosses five checkpoints and comes across a beautiful gate with a canopy. This is one of the entrances to Nepal. The most common sight is an imposing madrassa.

Such a sight may have passed muster if one had chanced upon it on the Indo-Pak border. But India and Nepal are the world’s most prominent Hindu majority nations. So how is this happening in the land contiguous to both of them? TSI travelled across the border to find a disturbing story. For decades, successive Indian governments have adopted a policy towards Muslims that has been controversial at best. Led principally by the Congress party, New Delhi has preferred to be seen as ‘pro-minority’, which usually means pro-Muslim. This is projected as evidence that the parties concerned are secular. THE MAKERS OF FEAR Curiously, Nepal saw merit in this approach. King Gyanendra rose to the top position in dubious circumstances after the June 2001 massacre of the royal family. As a consequence, Gyanendra barely got the acceptance that a King craves for from his people. To try and build support among Muslims, Gyanendra began to ‘liberalise’ policy toward Muslims in Nepal. On 4 November 2005, on the day of Eid, Gyanendra announced a national holiday – the first time Eid was so observed in the history of Nepal. He followed it up by lifting the Rs 50,000 (Nepali rupees) registration fee for madrassas in Nepal. “Consequently the Muslims vowed to extend support to the King. On 10 November 2005, they took out a procession of about 2,500 members in support of the King in Nepalganj, district Banke,” said a report of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), the paramilitary force employed at the Indo-Nepal border.

Nepal also allowed Pakistan and China to open consulates at Birganj in Nepal, “a region infested with Islamic fundamentalist activities” according to IB reports. The reports detailed the activity in Muslim fundamentalist circles, like rallies, construction of mosques and, “concentration of Muslims in Maoist-dominated areas exposing the Maoist-Muslim nexus”.

Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports state that till 1993, just after Rightwing kar sevaks demolished the disputed Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh, there were 301 madrassas on the Indian side of the border. Over the next six years, till 1998, only 29 new madrassas were built on the Indian side (it jumped from 330 to 1,440 after 1998). The Census says that Muslim population grew 27.59% between 1991 and 2001 in the 20 Indian districts bordering Nepal. In three districts in Bihar, Supaul, Madhubani and Shravasti, Muslim population grew more than 50%. Was this because of illegal immigration from Bangladesh? Or was something more at play? One madrassa, in Jalpapur, Sunsari (Nepal), attracted attention. It was spread over 25 acres, and a major part of it was being constructed underground. Apparently, “cash-rich” trusts like the Tauheed Education Trust, the Al-Hira Educational Society and the Faisal Educational Trust run many of the madrassas. K.V. Rajan, former Ambassador to Nepal, told TSI, “Once, when I was across through the border, I saw Pakistani Flags fluttering. I realised how unsafe it was for even an Ambassador to drive through these areas. Successive Ambassadors have expressed alarm and filed reports on the security ramifications on the borders but New Delhi has not been paying attention.”

IB reports have listed 26 Islamic organisations as worthy of attention in Nepal. Among the madrassas on the Indo-Nepal border in the IB list are these: “Madrassa Islamia Salfia – This madrassa is located at Kushaha, Saptari district. Adnan Javed, former Counsellor in the Pakistan Embassy in Kathmandu and a confirmed intelligence operative, had disbursed an amount of Nepali Rupees 3.75 lakh to this madrassa. Madrassa Tehfizul Quran – This madrassa is located in Siraha district close to the border. Maulana Hamidur Rehman, a known ISI agent and resident of village Samrari, Dhanusha district, is associated with the running of the madrassa. Rehman is known to have studied Arabic in Saudi Arabia. There are credible reports to indicate that he is in touch with suspected Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) elements”. And so on. There are hundreds of madrassas thus listed. This correspondent was barred from entering any of the madrassas he attempted to visit. There’s an atmosphere of suspicion and hostility in the area. One can sense trouble. How long before it breaks out . . . THE MAKERS OF FEAR The cradle that keeps the border militant going?

Historians have pondered often on putting a date to the advent of madrassa education. The widely accepted version is this: In 1866, Muslims in India began to feel vulnerable in the face of the British rule. Scared that Muslim culture would be a casuality, Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Yaqub Nanautavi, a teacher, started an educational institution in Deoband, between Saharanpur and Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. He had one student, Mahmud Hassan. Locals began noticing Nanautavi’s efforts and collected money to pay him salary of 15 annas. The madrassa, at present, is famous as the University of Darul Uloom, Deoband. It has 3,000+ students and 100+ teachers. Most madrassas in North India follow the Deoband school of thought, as do more than half the madrassas on the Indo-Nepal border. The most notorious followers of the Deoband school are the Taliban of Afghanistan.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017