Mamata Banerjee in a jovial mood with the madrasah board toppers at Nabanna as her ministers Firhad Hakim (left), Subrata Mukherjee (in pink kurta), and state chief secretary Malay De (seated next to Mukherjee) look on.
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Kolkata: Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today felicitated this year’s toppers of Alim (X), Fazil (XII), and High Madrasah (X) exams at the state secretariat Nabanna and posted photos on her social media pages, triggering a controversy.

Many are calling this a preferential treatment while some are viewing this as discrimination.

This is because only yesterday the Chief Minister felicitated 248 toppers from the Bengal boards, ICSE, ISC, CBSE, and the state JEE Board at Netaji Indoor Stadium and announced a reward of Rs 10,000 for each of them. None of the toppers from the West Bengal Board of Madrasah Education were invited to the event.

The Madrasah Board, which is also a body under the state government, runs the madrasah education system in Bengal and conducts Alim, Fazil, and High Madrasah finals every year. The results of this year’s exams were announced on 1 June.

Till early in the evening, Banerjee’s post has invited 202 comments. Most of those are adverse comments calling the Chief Minister’s move as preferential treatment. But a few have questioned as to why the madrasah toppers were not invited to the felicitation ceremony yesterday.

“I am unable to make a sense of this. Doesn’t it amounts to having double standards?” one Md Asanur Sardar has written in Bengali.

Officials in the state government, however, are a bit surprised at the controversy. “The CM has been inviting and felicitating madrasah toppers at Nabanna for the past few years while toppers from other boards are felicitated in a public ceremony. This is an unnecessary controversy with definitive vested interest,” an officer at Nabanna said without wanting to be named.

Some of the adverse comments on the CM’s post reflect the widespread ignorance about the madrasah education system in Bengal.

In reaction to Banerjee’s post wherein she has said that many of the madrasah toppers have told her that they want to become doctors, engineers, and civil servants, one Neeraj Singh has asked: “How can studying in madrasah be IAS, doctor, engineer. What a joke?”

This reflects the lack of knowledge that in Bengal, madrasah education is not limited to teaching Islamic theology. The Madrasah Board website makes this clear.

“The Senior Madrasahs running from class I to class X are called Alim Madrasahs and the Madrasahs from class I to class XII are called Fazil Madrasahs. In addition to language, social science & science subjects like Bengali / Urdu, English, mathematics, life science, physical science, history and geography the subjects like Arabic, Islamic theology (Hadith, Tafsir, and Fiqh) are also taught at Alim level. At Fazil level Bengali/Urdu, English, Arabic, and Theology are compulsory subjects. The students are also offered the opportunities to choose two elective subjects.”

“Students passing out from here are not only eligible for admission to all Higher Secondary level schools throughout the country but also may go for any stream they like,” the website clarifies.