Assam government has decided to close down all state-run madrassas and Sanskrit tols (schools), announced state Education and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday, October 9.
While making public the government’s decision, the minister said, “We had announced the decision in the Assembly earlier. Our policy is clear, there should be no religious education with government's funding.”
He further added that the private madrassas and Sanskrit schools would be allowed to run, however, their syllabus would be ‘monitored’. As part of the move, 48 contractual teachers from the madrassas are likely to be shifted to schools under the Education Department.
According to a report in The Telegraph, the government had made the announcement in the Assembly on Tuesday, during a discussion on budgetary allocation for the education department when some legislators were demanding provincialisation of madrassas.
Adding that the madrassas could not be provincialised as the state was adopting a modern education system, he said that the rules for provinicialisation of schools will change. “It will be more need-based instead of date and year based,” Sarma told the Assembly, as per reports. “For example, if there is no school within a 5 km radius of an area, we will fund a school there or where there is a need, like in the Sixth Schedule areas,” he said.
The announcement has met with severe criticism from various quarters in the state, with the most vocal opposition from the regional All India United Democratic Front party. In response to the government move, Badruddin Ajmal, AIUDF chief and Lok Sabha member, reportedly said that if the BJP-led government shut down government-run madrasas, his party would re-open them after coming to power in the next year's Assembly elections.
Earlier in September, a few minority leaders had warned to seek legal remedy in a move to stop the Bharatiya Janata Party-run state government from implementing its decision when the government had first made its intentions clear.
Terming the move as part of the government’s agenda of “harassing Muslims and denying them basic rights” as guaranteed in the Constitution, the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) had issued a statement saying, “Madrassas don’t only teach Islamic scriptures and Arabic, they also teach subjects like any regular school.”
The opposition to the government’s move also poured in from a group of monastic heads, who had termed it as “unacceptable”. Janardhan Deva Goswami, the satradhikar (head) of the Dakhinpat Satra in Majuli had reportedly said, “Sanskrit is part of our culture.”
The minority groups had also alleged that the BJP government’s decision was planned. They alleged that in recent years, the government had not allowed the recruitment of teachers in requisite numbers for the madrasas, while the number of students on roll was very high. There were altogether 13,00,000 Muslim students in the schools of Assam, mostly in madrasas. The madrasas had been exposed to face an artificial crisis of existence.
Notably, the BJP-led government had dissolved the Madrassa Education Board and Assam Sanskrit Board in 2018. While the madrassas were brought under the Secondary Board of Education Assam, the tols became part of the Kumar Bhaskar Varma Sanskrit and Ancient Studies University, a report by The Deccan Herald said.
There are 614 government-aided recognised madrassas in Assam -- 57 for girls, three for boys, and 554 co-educational, with 17 of them Urdu medium. There are nearly 1,000 recognised Sanskrit tols, of which around 100 are government-aided. The state government spends about Rs 3-4 crore on madrassas and about Rs 1 crore on Sanskrit tols in the state annually.
In addition, there are around 2000 madrassas that are not run with official help in the state. These are financed mainly through donations from private donors and organisations.