Over 21,000 Madrasa teachers in Uttar Pradesh are on the brink of unemployment due to the prolonged delay in receiving their honorariums for several years.
The Uttar Pradesh government on 5 January, 2024, issued a notice announcing the discontinuation of the additional honorariums given to the ad-hoc teachers in the Madrasas appointed under the Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasa (SPQEM) introduced by the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance Government in 2008.
The decision by the Yogi-Adityanath-led government was taken following an order of the Union government sent to the state government on 17 October, last year, maintaining that the SPQEM scheme was valid until the financial year 2021-22.
What is SPQEM?
To mainstream the children from minority communities and to bridge the Madrasa students to modern education, the ‘Madarsa Modernization Scheme’ also known as ‘Scheme for Providing Education in Madrasas/ Minorities (SPEMM)’ was introduced by the then Union government under the ‘National Policy on education of 1986’.
Through this scheme subjects like Hindi, English, Science, Social Sciences and Mathematics were added to the already existing religious and Urdu curriculum of Madrasas and Darul Ulooms across the nation.
Later in 2008, the scheme was renamed and expanded as ‘Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasa (SPQEM) with a similar motive by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA Government in the centre and 21,000 teachers were appointed in more than 7,000 Madrasas across the nation.
The government fixed the honorariums for the graduates and postgraduates, Rs.6000 and Rs.12000 per month respectively.
In 2016, the then ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh also announced an additional Rs.2000 and Rs.3000 making it Rs.8000 for the graduates and 15,000 for the postgraduates.
The budget to disperse the honorariums was under the Ministry of Human Resource Development but in 2021 it was transferred to the Ministry of minority affairs.
It is important to note that the entire expense for the teachers’ honorarium payment was not entirely given by the central government as in 2018 both parties agreed to divide the cost in a 60:40 ratio, where the centre had been paying the former and state the latter.
The recent move of the Uttar Pradesh government has come as a blow to thousands of teachers as it is affecting their livelihood and will hamper the education of around a million Madrasa-going students who largely depend on SPQEM to get mainstreamed to modern education.
Some teachers’ payments have been pending for the past 10 years- that is since 2013, while some teachers’ payments are due since 2017- that is six years.
Many of these teachers who have not received their salaries since last year are now protesting at the Eco Garden in the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, that is Lucknow.
The teachers started their protest on 18 December, 2023, marking the ‘Minority Rights Day,’ demanding the pending salaries and now roll back of the government’s decision to stop paying honorariums.
Mohsin Khan, 42, from Gonda district is one among many who come to join the protest in the state capital in the hope of reinstatement of the order and to demand his pending salary, an amount of more than 9 lakh rupees.
The science teacher said, “I am the only earning member in my family of 6 people including myself but haven’t received my salary in the last two years and some days are just difficult to make ends meet or to arrange a meal.”
Khan who teaches science in Madrasa Darsgah Islamia in Gonda district was appointed in 2013 under SPQEM and got honorarium only from 2017 to 2021, the rest of his money was never given to him.
He never received the salary regularly. He only got it after months of waiting, that too in fragments.
“I never got the salary at the end of the month, had to wait for months to get the salary of one month or sometimes two, but was satisfied that I was getting it even if late” ” Khan said to Maktoob.
“But not getting it at all makes us hopeless. We have been giving our time and skills in this. We are not begging for money, we are asking for what is rightfully ours, after doing a lot of hard work in teaching Madrasa students”, he added.
He has been given private tuition after coming back from Madrasa which only gets him Rs. 300 to Rs. 400 per student, monthly, an amount not enough to arrange one litre of milk every day for the entire month.
Khan also told Maktoob that his other colleagues are running e-rickshaws or opening a kirana shop to sustain their families.
The postgraduate in Science believes that the government’s move will not only affect the teachers who are forced to do menial jobs because they are not getting their salaries but will adversely affect the millions of students who were getting quality education through this scheme.
“The children we teach are the poorest of poor, they cannot even afford to wear chappals, but by this SPQEM intervention they are getting an opportunity to get modern education, by forcing us to leave the job by not paying us the salaries will directly affect these students and it will further marginalise them to decades back”, said 42-year-old science teacher.
Recently, one of the students Khan taught in the Madrasa Darsgah Islami in Gonda cracked the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test enabling him to pursue a medical degree in one of the top medical colleges in the country, Khan told Maktoob with pride in his tone.
He added, “How will these Madrasa students reach these institutions if not given the right direction?”
His demands – roll back the government’s decision, a respectful job and the payment of the pending honorarium.
Suhail Nasir, 42, from Moradabad district in western Uttar Pradesh, was appointed in 2004 under Madrasa Modernization scheme to teach English, Mathematics and science till class 8th in Madrasa Jamia Ul Huda in Gal Shaheed in Moradabad district.
His honorarium payments kept coming and stopping ever since he started working. The last salary he got was in 2019 and since then he has been giving tuitions after the Madrasa classes to run his family of 2 parents, a wife and 3 children. He has lost the count of his outstanding amount on the government but says that it amounts to lakhs of rupees.
Nasir told Maktoob, “I haven’t had a regular income, so giving tuition was the only way to fulfil the basic necessities of my family.”
As a private tutor, he earns an amount that can pay the fees of his three children, a girl and a boy studying in 8th standard, 5th standard and another boy in 3rd standard and get some groceries for the month.
Nasir imparts quality education to those who cannot afford to pay for modern education or want to pursue religious education all along, but his own children have not gone to a private school or received any treatment in private hospitals.
“I have always been looking for the alternatives I can afford as per my income and money I get from tuitions”, a 42-year English postgraduate told Maktoob.
He said, “We visit the government hospitals if needed, though nobody wants to go there because of the dire conditions and poor treatment you get there, or my children are not studying in a very high-five school, it’s just a good school where they can get basic education. That’s because I can only afford that as I have not gotten my salary for years and that’s what I can provide from my alternative income.”
“Otherwise who would not enjoy luxury”, he added.
Nasir spends the prime time of the day in Madrasa, the rest of his day goes into earning an alternate income while his family waits at home for him to sit and spend some quality time.
“I miss some very precious moments sometimes because I am too occupied with work and I regret not spending enough time with my elderly parents, wife and growing-up children”, he said in a low tone.
However, he hopes that the collective efforts of the teachers if given a voice, a fruitful intervention can be achieved resulting in pressuring the government to take back the order and providing the outstanding amount of all the teachers.
Shoaib Khan, a member of one Madrasa association among multiple associations made by Madrasa modernization teachers told Maktoob that he along with the Samiti Members met Union Minister Smriti Irani multiple times but to no avail, and they have not received any positive response.
Khan said, “She clearly refused saying that no assistance will be given to religious institutions.”
“My question to her was that only, but we are seeking the salary for modern education and not religious, but we were reverted without addressing our grievance”, Khan told Maktoob.
Shoaib who is now at the age where he cannot find another job or think of starting another work to earn. Khan has given 19 years of his life teaching in the Madrasa before he quit in 2019. He was appointed in 2005 through the Madrasa Modernization Scheme.
He only look forward to the fruition of the union’s efforts and aimed his hopes on the state government saying, “The state government had earlier assured us that they will intervene. We will approach them again.”
The teachers association however is determined to not sit back and pledged to make it a national movement if their demands are not met.
Ashraf Ali also known as Sikander Baba, President of Madrasa Adhunikaran Shikhsak Ekta Samiti said, “It is not only the matter of livelihood of the teachers but the future of millions of students is at stake where the government is trying to make them deprived of education. If this is not bias then what is?”
“4 teachers have died during the protests since December 18 and the health of hundreds of teachers is adversely affected including physical and mental. Many have tried to end their lives”, he told Maktoob.
“I, along with the other teachers, will keep protesting until our salaries are released,” said Sikander Baba, who has been teaching Hindi at the Madrasa Sultan Ul Uloom for the past 17 years in Bahraich district.
Baba also mentioned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about the Quran in one hand and the computer in the other but “we are instead given a bowl in hand to beg”.
Baba has been the face of the protests in the state capital and vows to fight till the end.
Other demands of the teachers represented by him include reinstatement of the order terminating the honorarium of Madrasa teachers, payment of the outstanding amount of the teachers and the regulation of the scheme should be under the state government.
On 17 January, they are planning to demonstrate another huge protest at the Eco Garden at Lucknow’s Charbagh railway station.
The Uttar Pradesh Madrasa Education Board has approached the Union government requesting to release honorariums for these teachers.
Iftekhar Ahmad Javed, the board’s chairman, informed Maktoob that he had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 10, urging the renewal of SPQEM.
“The government of India is leaving no stone unturned in empowering the Muslim youth”, and “We want them to have the Quran in one hand and a computer in the other”, he mentioned a part of a 2019 speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and further emphasised in the letter that the move can be a potential step in the collapse of madrasa education if honorariums are withdrawn, impacting underprivileged students.
Multiple attempts to target Minority Education
Earlier in November 2022, the Bhartiya Janata Party-led union government announced the discontinuation of Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) facilitating minority communities, including Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Parsis, and Sikhs.
Muslims were the major beneficiaries of MANF as they pursued courses like M.Phil. and PhD with its help.
It has been a year since the government had promised to restart the allocation of funds for the already enrolled students, but no adequate attention has been paid to the grievances of MANF fellows.
Now, the honorarium of Madrasa teachers is being discontinued and the Minority status of the Aligarh Muslim University is being contested in the Supreme Court
Baba said almost all the teachers had participated in innumerable protests in Delhi, Lucknow and district headquarters from 2017 onwards, but to no avail.
“The government doesn’t seem positive to our demands and protests,” he said.
“We have given a memorandum several times in the last several years to the prime minister’s office, the President’s secretariat, and the Union home ministry to make them aware of our problems but if the water level rises over our heads, the government will see huge protests”, added Baba.
Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) had been raising the issue of Madrasa in the Lok Sabha.
Lal Bihari Yadav, a Samajwadi Party member of the UP Legislative Council, has also spoken about the teachers’ grievances in the UP Vidhan Sabha in the past and present, Ashraf Ali said.
The fate of the thousands of teachers and millions of students will be decided by the government.
But Baba said, “The protests will only intensify in the coming days if the government does not listen to our demands.”