The Dawn: Dec 26, 2014

Children of the poor: the killers and the killed

Mushtaq Soofi 

A large network of Madressah (seminaries) all across the country generally and in Punjab particularly is an explicit but unacknowledged sign of failure of our state and society. There is nothing wrong with the Madressah per se as it has been an important part of our religious and educational traditions since ages. Great mystics and poets such as Baba Farid, Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah and Sultan Bahu got their education from seminaries. What they did with the knowledge they got is a different question which needs to be examined separately.

Sprawl of seminaries in recent decades is inexorably linked with politics and class structure of our contemporary society shaped by colonial and post-colonial practices. Seminary’s connection with geopolitics is well known but its umbilical linkage with the class structure is deliberately ignored or brushed under the carpet as it makes the escape from the unpleasant issues hardly possible. Why millions of children go to seminaries where education apart from having little contemporary relevance, is at times hostile to the very notion of modern life which is an outcome of a complex and enlightening historical process spread over centuries? Why their curricula inspired by arcane sources are never questioned by the state? Why is there no check on the qualifications of the teachers? Why their huge funds generated by private sources, local and foreign, are never audited?

The indifferent attitude of the state and the elite can partly be explained by political exigencies which emanate from the urgency of eliminating the threats to the existing order in collusion with big powers by exploiting seminary trained students in the name of faith. Another aspect of such an indifference which is historically more significant is rooted in a well-founded perception of the poor as an ever lurking threat to the system. Refusing the restructuring of the system with a view to mitigating the misery of the miserable the predatory state and the parasitic elite have found an easy way out; let the children of the poor go where they can find a foothold away from the public eye. And what can be a better place for the unprotected young than a seminary? It offers shelter to the shelterless, food to the hungry, clothes to the unclad and education to the uneducated. Who are shelterless, hungry, unclad and uneducated in this land of the pure? The children of the poor! It’s shameful to put all the blame on the seminary for the all-engulfing mess we are in. The time has come to name and shame all the high and mighty who have utterly failed as leaders of the society in their fundamental socio-historical responsibility by not creating equitable socio-economic structures. They maintain obscene class distinctions to the disadvantage of the deprived. The deprived forsaken by the state and the elite in their struggle for survival are left with two options; to send their children to unregulated work places as menials or to dump them in the seminaries. Children at both the places suffer though differently. Once the children are in the seminary the parents practically lose the rights of controlling and guiding them.

The moment the economic burden of maintaining the children is shifted to the seminary the parents complacently neglect their responsibility in terms of social, cultural and moral upbringing of their offsprings. Such a situation makes it easier for all types of state and non-state actors to manipulate the young minds for narrow ideological and political ends in conjunction with seminary administrators and teachers who have blinkered vision of life, religious and mundane.

Have you ever seen a student in a seminary from stable middle and upper middle class? The upper class is an altogether different breed. It sends its children abroad for education. So what are we left with in our seminaries? The children of the poor! The state and the elite argue that the poor breed like rabbits.

Their children can’t be taken care of because they are too many. Nobody pauses to ponder why are they too many. That will spring up uncomfortable economic and political questions regarding the societal structure. About the apathy of the apathetic one can say in the words of poet Brecht “is that because it’s so many who are suffering? Should one not help them all the more because they are many? One helps them less. Even the kindly walk past and after that they are as kindly as ever they were before walking past”.

The phenomenon of extremism in our country is inescapably linked with the class question which is lost in the loud noise raised by the enraged at the helm in the aftermath of extremely tragic killing of the innocent in Peshawar. Let us pause for a moment and think. Why it’s so that the most of the killers and the killed are poor or not so poor. Who sends the poor from the seminaries and the caves to kill the poor in the streets, squares and the ordinary schools is the question that needs to be answered by the gods that rule over our destiny. It’s not the poor. Who are they if not the poor? Who stands to benefit when poor fight the poor? Jesus Christ exposes who is this who. That’s why he says, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven”. —

Back to Mushtaq Soofi's  Page

Back to Column's Page