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India’s Assam state passes law to abolish madrasas

GUWAHATI, India: In an another anti-Muslim move, Indian state Assam, ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, has passed a law abolishing all madrasas (Islamic schools), saying they provided substandard education.

Opposition politicians criticised the move and said it reflected the government’s anti-Muslim attitude in the Hindu-majority country.

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

“We need more doctors, police officers, bureaucrats, and teachers, from the minority Muslim community rather than Imams for mosques,” said Sarma, a rising star in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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.

“The idea is to wipe out Muslims,” said Wajed Ali Choudhury, a lawmaker from the opposition Congress party. Last month, Uttar Pradesh state became the first Indian province to pass a law against forced or fraudulent religious conversions, laying out prison terms for anyone compelling others to convert their faith or luring them into these conversions through marriage.

The anti-conversion law does not name any religion but critics call it anti-Islam for being solely imposed to prevent “Love Jihad,” which hardline Hindu groups describe as a conspiracy to convert gullible Hindu women to Islam by misleading them with promises of love and marriage.

The BJP-led government in Madhya Pradesh has also said that it is proposing a jail term of 10 years for anyone found guilty of using marriage to force someone to change religion.

At least four other Indian states, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Assam have said that they are planning to bring in similar anti-conversion laws.

More than 100 retired senior civil servants and diplomats on Tuesday urged the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh to repeal the new law, which is seen as aimed against Muslims.

The bill, which will now to be sent to the governor for his approval, scraps government funding for madrassas, and they will be converted to general schools by April 1, 2021.

Under the bill, the State Madrassa Education Board, Assam, will also be disbanded, but it will have no bearing on the status of allowances and service conditions of the teaching and non-teaching staff.

Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami placed the bill for a voice vote, which was cleared with backing from BJP’s alliance partners – the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF).   

State Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma stated the government would soon introduce another bill to regulate private madrassas as well.

“We are in the process of drafting a bill whereby Qawmi (private) madrassas will have to be registered with the state government and they will be given registration if and only if they teach science, maths etc along with religious education,” he said.

However, Wednesday’s bill did not cover, or even mention Sanskrit tols (centres of Vedic education), which Mr Sarma had earlier said would also be shut as the government cannot fund religious education because it is a “secular entity”.