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Assam: Madrassa Demolitions Raise More Questions than Answers

As Assam authorities go on a spree to raze madrassas, several citizens raise concerns about it not following rule of law, be it in the case of ‘ structural lapses’ or alleged terror links.
assam madarsa

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: The Hindu

Guwahati: Assam is in the spotlight again, this time due to the demolition of madrassas at several places. This demolition drive involves some crucial media statements by none other than BJP leader and Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. However, the demolition spree has invited disquiet across various sections of society.

First, let us take a look at the happenings in around a month in the state.

On August 30, the Markazul Ma-Arif Quariayana Madrassa situated at Kabaitary village in the Bongaigaon district of Assam received a notice to leave the complex by that night itself. According to reports, the local administration there issued a notice at around 6 p.m with an order to vacate the madrassa complex totally by 10 p.m. Within that small period, the residents and students (nearly 300) had to rush out of the madrassa.

Notably, the students there came from various other districts and were staying away from their families. A local media channel coverage showed how the madrassa residents were made to rush out in the presence of the police.

Importantly, the local administration’s notice included provisions laid in the Disaster Management Act saying that the madrassa building was not safe for human inhabitation as it was structurally vulnerable. At 10 a.m the next day, bulldozers came to ground the structure and local witnesses said it took almost 12 hours to raze the two-storeyed building.

A few days ago, on August 26, police arrested Mufti Hafizur Rahman, who was a teacher at the madrassa, on terror charges. The police claimed he had links with al-Qaeda and the Ansarullah Bangla Team (Bangladesh). Rahman was arrested in Goalpara district.

In fact, in the last month, there have been several other instances of a crackdown on alleged terror outfits, commonly denoted as jehadis. As of September 3, there have been around 40 arrests with such alleged terror links, according to reports.

However, the so-called jehadi busting spree in Assam has also been accompanied by demolitions similar to those that happened in Bongaigaon. Just a day before the demolition in Bongaigaon took place, another one was brought down in Barpeta district, near Bongaigaon.

On August 4, another madrassa faced a similar fate, this time in the district of Morigaon.

Notably, the majority of the demolitions had administration orders issued citing concerns about building safety or an alleged illegal encroachment. But, these demolitions are coupled with arrests of teachers or clerics with alleged terror charges.

Chief Minister Sarma has also conducted a few press conferences mentioning the ‘anti-jehadi drive’. On August 4, he said in one such conference that Assam was becoming a hotbed for the jehadis and since May, five modules linked to al-Qaeda and the Ansarullah Bangla Team had been busted.

In another press conference, Sarma said that imams (clerics) from outside Assam would have to register online and go through police verification police. Again, in another media byte, the CM said his government does not have any intention to go on demolishing the madrassas, adding that his government intends to ensure that no “jehadi activities “go on in any madrassa”.

“Once the madrassas are not used for jehadi works, why will there be demolitions?” he said, adding, “but if we get specific inputs that an institution is being used, under the guise of a madrassa, for anti-India activities and jihadi activities, we will take the strongest possible action in each and every case.”

What the police are investigating, what notices the local administration is putting and what the leaders are saying appear to have raised several questions, according to Abdul Matin Khandakar, a Congress Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from the North Abhayapuri constituency.

Speaking to NewsClick over the phone, Khandakar said: “There  is confusion. Our Chief Minister says something and the administration says something. I visited the Kabaitary demolition site and contacted the members of the committee that used to run the madrassa. The land that the madrassa stood (on) belonged to the madrassa itself and it is a ‘myadi’ (strong) piece of the plot. Moreover, the building had plans and estimates in accordance with the PWD regulation. The madrassa also had a no objection certificate from the gaon panchayat (village panchayat). I still failed to understand why was it demolished. Was it due to procedural fault or due to the man arrested on alleged terror links who was associated with the madrassa?”

Khandakar further said: “Police and other investigating agencies have to investigate the terror links and whoever is found guilty in the process of law will be accepted. But the rule of law has to prevail.”

Santanu Borthakur, a senior advocate in Gauhati High Court raised similar concerns. In a telephonic conversation with NewsClick, Borthakur said: “If there is illegal construction or there is illegal encroachment in government land then the law is there to take its course. The people have to be notified properly within the time given as per law. In the case of the alleged jehadi activities also, the same arguments hold true—the investigating agencies have to submit evidence in front of the court, and there will be trials and then a verdict. Taking the law into one’s hands is not acceptable at any cost.”

Notably, state-run madrassas under the Madrassa Education Board, Assam were scrapped and converted to general school sin April 2021. The Madrassa Education Board has also been disbanded. 

“There are constitutional provisions for religious minorities under which madrassas can be opened. I feel by closing down government madrassas, where the syllabus was formulated according to government directives, a vacuum has been created that private madrassas have filled. The Board-run madrassas had a secular syllabus. In fact, there were instances where Sanskrit teachers were also appointed in such madrassas. It was a part of secular education policy,” Borthakur said.

Abu Ahmed, a noted professor and former director of Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development rasied points of apprehension. “Busting jehadi elements or terror outfits are accepted, but everything has laws. You see how the notices for vacating the premise in Bongaigaon were served, people got only a few hours. How could children, who came there from distant places, go out at night?”

“These kinds of activities will increase ‘othering’ in society. The government has to follow the rule of law,” Ahmed told NewsClick.

Paresh Malakar, editor in chief of North East Now, a local web media, while speaking to NewsClick said: “The demolition appears to be designed. For quite some time, especially after the new Chief Minister took charge, there have been demolitions at several places, for instance in the Batadroba case where the house of the accused of setting the police station on fire was demolished.” 

“Is this the rule of law?” Malakar questioned. “There can be some jehadi links with certain madrassas, but in that case, there will be evidence, reports submitted in court, trials and then only a verdict can come out. If the demolitions are carried out due to procedural lapses, according to the guidelines of authorities, then I am certain there will be many such lapses elsewhere. Is there any demolition? No,” he added.

Mohsin Khan, general secretary of National Students Union of India in Assam told NewsClick: “There should be a rule of law and everyone including the government has to abide by these respecting the values bestowed upon the Indian constitution. The government should also give attention to arresting those linked to some gruesome violence and murders that happened in the state a few years back.” Citing an example, he reminded the Abhi-Neel case and asked why it could not be solved for so many years.

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