Guwahati: One of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s major policy initiatives to keep a check on madrasas is now being discussed outside his state. In speeches and interviews, Sarma has repeatedly highlighted the measures taken by the BJP-led government to regulate madrasas.
Recently, at an event in Karnataka, Sarma said he intended to shut all madrasas in Assam, as they were not needed in ‘New India’. Citing a recent interview, he also shared his response on the intent of having shut down 600 madrasas in Assam. “I said that I have shut 600, but my intention is to shut all madrasas,” he told the gathering at Belagavi.
Sarma said Assam needs schools, colleges and universities to produce doctors, engineers, and other professionals, and not madrasas.
But how was this possible? Under legislative and executive decisions taken by the Assam government in 2020, religious sciences taught in the ‘provincialised madrasas’ has come to an end. All these institutions are now being converted into general schools, following the academic curriculum prescribed by the State Council of Educational Research And Training, Assam.
There are two kinds of madrasas in Assam — private ones that run on public donations and are still functioning, imparting only Islamic teaching, and those that were affiliated to the State Madrassa Education Board, teaching regular school curriculum in addition to a few theological subjects in Arabic. All theological subjects have now been scrapped.
In its meeting of the Council of Ministers on 13 November, 2020, the Assam government decided to convert the provincialised madrasas into high schools, and to withdraw the courses of instructions in Arabic and theological subjects.
A similar decision was also taken in the meeting to convert the ‘Sanskrit Tols’ into academic institutes imparting degree and diploma courses on India’s history and ancient culture. The tols have been handed over to the Kumar Bhaskar Varma Sanskrit and Ancient Studies University.
This was backed by the Assam Repealing Act, 2020, which received the assent of the Governor in January 2021. The Act repealed the Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation) Act, 1995 and the Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation of Services of Teachers and Reorganisation of Educational Institutions) Act, 2018.
A series of executive orders were also passed by the government to this effect — an order issued in February 2021 converted madrasas into high schools and brought them under the State Education Board. Religious teachings and instructions were withdrawn. Further, through a notification passed on 12 February, 2021, the State Madrasa Education Board was dissolved after the results for the academic year 2021-22 were declared. All its records, bank accounts and other departments were transferred to the Board of Secondary Education (SEBA) that conducts the Class 10 matriculation examination in the state.
The students studying in the last two years of the Fadilul Ma’rif (FM) and Mumtazul Muhatddithin (MM) courses were allowed to continue their studies till 31 March, 2022 to complete their final examination. Fresh admissions under these courses were barred from April 1, 2021.
The order also directed teachers who were imparting lessons on theological subjects or religious sciences such as ‘Fiqh/Aqaid’ (Sacred Law) to be provided training for teaching general subjects of their aptitude.
Fiqh is part of the Islamic law, which contains the provisions and laws to guide practical issues on how to worship the Allah and honour daily human relationships in family and public life.
FM and MM were courses of instruction in Arabic recognised by the State Madrasa Education Board. While FM is a theological degree course at graduate level and is equivalent to a matriculation in general studies, MM in Islamic education is equated to post graduate level in theological subjects (Hadith and Quran).
There were over 700 recognised madrasas in Assam, of which 402 were provincialised by the government. There are 198 high school madrasas under the SEBA and another 542 such institutions under Assam Higher Secondary Education Council (AHSEC), including four Arabic colleges, 133 senior madrasas, 250 pre-senior madrasas and 14 title madrasas.
These academic institutions for elementary education and higher learning were functioning under the State Madrasa Board, considered the oldest board of madrasa education in India.
Following orders, the pre-senior (elementary to Class 6 or Class 7) and senior madrasa schools (from Class 8 to the higher secondary level) have been converted into general institutes and the Arabic colleges (Class 6 to PG level) have been transformed into higher secondary schools. Meanwhile, the Arabic councils have been brought under the AHSEC. All senior and title madrasas (post graduate level), which offered MM or Masters degrees, are now converted to high schools.
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Petition challenging orders dismissed by court
In February last year, the Gauhati High Court dismissed a writ petition filed by a group of 13 people including representatives of managing committees, and even donors and ‘mutawallis’ of the land on which these madrasas were built. The petition challenged the Repealing Act and subsequent orders passed on the grounds that they were in violation of the fundamental rights under Articles 25, 26, 29 and 30 of the Constitution.
Advocate Abdur Razaaque Bhuyan, who represented the petitioners, told ThePrint that the madrasas were a kind of “exclusive and unique institutions in the entire country,” which the government should have protected through certain measures. “The state government said it cannot dedicate funds to sponsor religious education. There was no link between religion and the course curriculum in these madrasas. It is a creation of the government,” he added.
Merging Qawmi madrasas
While introducing the Bill on government-run madrasas in December 2020, Sarma said that the government also planned to pass a law asking Qawmi (private) madrasas to register with the state government, and that the approval would be given only to those madrasas that introduce general subjects like science and math along with Qawmi education.
All privately-run small madrasas are being merged with nearby large madrasas to bring about educational reforms, and also reduce the threat of radicalisation. There can now be only one madrasa within a periphery of three kilometres. Besides Arabic, the revised curriculum follows modern education with emphasis on skill development.
These measures were enforced after former Assam Police chief Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta held a meeting with 68 community leaders in September last year. In fact, the community leaders had reportedly approached the police after teachers of a few privately run madrasas were allegedly found involved in jihadi activities in the state.
In July-August 2022, the Assam police had busted at least nine modules of the banned terror outfits like the Ansarul Bangla Team (ABT) and Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), and arrested 53 suspects. Some of the accused had been teaching in Qawmi madrasas and were reportedly involved in recruiting youths to these organisations.
“Almost a hundred madrasas have been merged with other large madrasas, and after Ramzan, a few more would be brought together with the start of the new academic year,” Maulana Abdul Qadir, the secretary of Private Madrasa Board in Assam, told ThePrint.
“There were some madrasas operating without rules and regulations, students and infrastructure. The government and our community leaders wanted those madrasas to be either abolished or merged with larger madrasas. Our work in identifying these madrasas is almost over,” he added.
These madrasas are spread across lower and middle Assam districts including Barpeta, Dhubri, and Goalpara. At least two Qawmi madrasas in Upper Assam have also been amalgamated with larger ones, Maulana Qadir informed.
Welcoming the initiative, some in the community said that the mushrooming of private madrasas has been a cause of concern and the government should monitor these institutions.
“The government has also adopted this process of merging government schools where the number of students are below the required average. Same is applicable for madrasas and it’s necessary. In some places, there were only two persons in one madrasa. The government cannot stop private madrasas, but only genuine madrasas should be there,” senior advocate Nekibur Zaman, who is also a commentator, told ThePrint.
“The government cannot directly ask the madrasas to follow a particular syllabus, but can regulate or interfere to a certain extent through measures — related to infrastructure or certain unlawful activities at some madrasas. They cannot bring restrictions to studying the Quran or religious instructions,” said Abdur Razaaque Bhuyan.
Madrasa education in Assam dates back to 1200s
The madrasa education system in Assam is believed to have started with the advent of Muslims in 1206 AD. While the education began in mosques, it was gradually institutionalised with the establishment of madrasas by the British East India Company.
The Central Madrasa Examination Board for Senior Madrasa Education was established in 1927 to conduct examinations till 1947. Later, the provincial government of Assam converted it into the Madrasa Education Board in 1934 with nine madrasa schools.
In 1950, it was renamed as the State Madrasa Education Board. Subsequently, the Assam Education Department Rules and Order, 1954 was introduced by the government to run general-cum-madrasa education in the state.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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