Following the violent gang rape of a young medical student on a Delhi bus last month, some top Muslim clerics say ending co-ed schools would prevent rapes. But the suggestion has found few takers: Even among Muslims, many are opposing it fiercely.
Soon after the Delhi rape, a government committee sought suggestions from different quarters on how to improve safety for women in India. The committee received 11 lists of suggestions, including one from Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), one of the country's largest Muslim organizations. Among a set of suggestions ranging from a ban on sex outside marriage to public execution of convicted rapists, JIH highlighted that co-education leads to many social evils.
"Co-education should be abolished and proper education facilities meant exclusively for women should be made available at all level of education," the JIH statement, issued by Secretary General of JIH Nusrat Ali said.
But many Muslim educators, female students, and working women across the country have opposed this suggestion, charging that it would be detrimental to the development of the Muslim community in India. The public resistance highlights the growing appetite among Muslim parents to improve their minority community's trailing status through education, including that of girls.
Indian Muslims have lagged behind in education, which has set back the community's development, says Samsul Alam, the vice chancellor of Kolkata's Aliah University.
"But, in a changed positive trend, all across the country in increased number Muslims are sending their children to study in schools, colleges, and universities. In droves the Muslim girls are also pursuing studies and they are set to upgrade the socioeconomic status Muslims in the society," says Professor Alam. "If now we stop sending our girls to co-ed institutions, they would be deprived of advanced education and it would be disastrous for the community."
According to data provided by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration that specializes in research of planning and management of education in India, between 2007-08 and 2010-11, enrollment of Muslim children in the elementary school level increased by 25 percent and for the children between the sixth and eighth grades by 50 percent.
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The JIH is a hardline Islamic organization and movement among Sunni Muslims in India. Founded in India in 1948 after Partition, the organization claims to have 50,000 party workers and 300,000 other associate members. According to its website, the group says it is drawing in members with the purpose of developing a cadre of righteous Muslims who might then, through God, bring about the establishment of "the Islamic Order" by the state.
Islamic scholar and JIH spokesman Abdul Hameed Nomani says Islam favors education for all men and women, but asks its followers to avoid mixing with anyone besides close male relatives.
"In Islam pardah [veil] is very important, but co-education promotes bepardaghi [going without veil] which is against the Shariat. It is giving rise to a number of evils, therefore we are against co-education," Mr. Nomani says.
At lower levels of the Indian education system, separate institutions for girls are available, but for higher professional studies, no such system exists in the country, explains Tanweer Fazal, a professor of sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi.