• Devangi Sharma

Ban of Islamic Schools in Assam

Introduction

In what claims to be an effort to bring a truly secular curriculum in the education system, BJP-led government in the state of Assam has passed a law abolishing state-run Islamic schools, known as madrassas. What exactly does this ban entail.


What are madrassas?

A madrasa is an educational institution offering instruction in Islamic subjects including, but not limited to, the Quran, the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad, jurisprudence (fiqh), and law. However, contrary to popular belief, non- religious subjects such as sciences, mathematics, history etc. are also taught in many of these schools, arguably not to the same standards as modern educational centres.

Madrasas are said to have started in the seventh century when those eager to learn were taught Islamic religion at mosques. During the 400 years that followed, Madrasas began to develop as separate centres of education.

Currently, there are 18 states in India, including Assam, where Madrasas get Central government funds. In these states, religious education is continuing at the government expense, and this practice of appeasement has a legacy of 70 years in India. Article 30 of the Indian Constitution gives minorities in India the right to establish their own linguistic and educational institutions. They can also seek grants from the government without any discrimination. The Madrasas in India flourished under this Constitutional right.

Cc: Distribution of madrassas in Assam

Propositions of the Ban

The latest ban propositions converting state-run Islamic schools into regular schools, saying they provide sub-standard education.


More than 700 of the schools, known as madrasas, in Assam will be shut by April, the state’s education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told the local assembly.

Elaborating on it, Sarma said "All State-run madrassas will be converted into regular schools or in certain cases teachers will be transferred to state-run schools and Madrasas will be shut down.


“We need more doctors, police officers, bureaucrats, and teachers, from the minority Muslim community rather than imams for mosques,” said Sarma. The government would convert them to regular schools as education provided in the madrasas could not prepare anyone for “the temporal world and its earthly concerns,” he said.


He said the decision is being taken to bring uniformity, adding "Teaching `Quran` cannot happen at the cost of government money, if we have to do so then we should also teach both the Bible and Bhagavad Gita. We want to bring uniformity and stop this practice."


Criticism

Opposition politicians criticised the move and said it reflected the government’s anti-Muslim attitude in the Hindu-majority country. Senior state opposition leader Debabrata Saikia claimed the new law was passed by the BJP to "consolidate more Hindu votes."

"It is a polarization tactic," Saikia said. "(The BJP) is trying to do it in an official capacity. There is no such need for a law."


Opposition politicians from the Indian Congress Party and the All India United Democratic Front staged a walkout during the discussion of the bill.


Religious discrimination in Assam became a topic of debate last year when nearly 2 million people in the state of 33 million were not included in the country's National Register of Citizens (NRC). In an already terse relationship with the community, such a law was certainly not well received.


The bill also comes at a time when more than 100 retired senior civil servants and diplomats urged the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh to repeal a new law criminalizing forced religious conversion of brides, which is seen as aimed against Muslims.


Arguments supporting the bill

The Assam government's decision is being opposed to a plea that the religious freedom of Muslims is taken away. However, we should understand that religious education taught at Madrasas is, in fact, depriving Muslim students of modern education.


Notably, the literacy rate among 20 crores Muslims living in India is less than SC/ST and OBC. According to the National Statistical Office (NSO) data, only 48 percent of Muslim students in India are able to study up to class 12, while 14 percent could study beyond 12th standard.

Statistical comparison on the educational front for different communities

According to the chairman of Assam's Madrassa Education Board, Imran Hussain, "If parents have sent their kids to madrassas for just theological studies, they may have a problem. But I believe in good education, and if (students) are given a general education, it will be good. It is not belittling the (Muslim) community. This is not a policy aimed against Muslims.”


Moreover, the Assam government spends Rs 3 to 4 crores annually on madrassas, compared to Rs One crore on Sanskrit schools. This discrimination is not limited to any one state. Vaishno Devi University in Jammu and Kashmir gets an annual grant of Rs 7 crore, while Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University in Rajouri and Islamic University in Avantipura in Kashmir have already received Rs 20 crore each. Each of these varsities also gets additional grants of Rs 25 crores.


Conclusion

While a fear of retaliation and political turmoil stopped previous governments from taking such a drastic measure, the law itself is not challenging any constitutional provisions as the ban only extends to the state funded madrassas. However, with the Muslim community in Assam already fearing repression, many believe that future decrees will illegalize all such religious institutions in the state. The bill advertises itself as an effort to increase secularism in the educational system and improve quality of education imparted. Only time will tell how effective the law will be to improve infrastructure, and if it will be at a cost of the religious minorities. Sources: Reuters, DNA, CNN, The Guardian