HBS Stops State Funding of Religious Education; Madrassas, Sanskrit Tols to Close Down
In a significant decision, the Assam government has decided to shut all state-run Madrassas and Sanskrit Tols in the state. The religious schools running in the state will be converted to regular high schools and higher secondary schools within the next 4-5 months.
Announcing the decision, Assam education minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma said that it is not the job of the government to teach religion, religious scriptures and Arabic and other languages for religious purposes.
It is clarified that only government-run religious schools are being shut down, which means Madrassas run by mosques or private parties and Sanskrit schools run by non-government organisations, individuals etc will not be affected by this decision.
On the fate of the Madrassa and Sanskrit Tol teachers, the education minister said, “We’re going to send them into voluntary retirement under which they’ll continue to get their salaries till their respective dates of retirement. And we’re going to complete this exercise within three/four months.”
Salary is safe, job is not
The teachers working in the Madrassas and Sanskrit Tols will not lose their jobs. Teachers teaching religious subjects will get salaries till their retirement while sitting at home, as they will not be needed to teach anything in the schools although teachers of other subjects will continue to teach their subjects in the converted general schools.
Himanta Biswa Sarma says
“If someone is teaching religion using his or her own money that is not a problem. But if state funding is used to teach Quran, then we have to teach the Bhagavad Gita and Bible also. Therefore, the government-run Madrassas, High Madrassas and Sanskrit Tols (schools) operating in the state will be converted to regular schools very soon.”
"These (govt-run Madrassas and Sanskrit Tols) issue certificates which are equivalent to matriculation (Class 10) and higher secondary (Class 12). Since there is no regulatory board to govern them, a lot of wrongdoings take place in issuing these certificates," the minister said.
22-month-old Assam Madrassa Education Bill
After just 22 months of the Bill being passed in Assam to bring Madrassas under norms, the government of Assam has decided to close down all state-funded Madrassas in Assam. On 2nd April 2018, the BJP government in the state passed The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialization of Services of Employees and Re-Organization of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Bill to monitor the activities of the unregulated Madrassas.
In his statement of objects and reasons, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma had said then that the Bill was brought so that the Madrassa schools conform to the prevailing statutory norms and standards, and it also has "a further objective to restrict any further growth of such venture Madrassa educational institutions in the state."
BJP govt announced Sanskrit as compulsory subject in 2017
The Assam cabinet’s decision to introduce Sanskrit as a compulsory subject till Class 8 had evoked sharp criticism from students’ organizations and opposition political parties in the state.
Most of the organizations including AASU and AJYCP had criticized the decision to make Sanskrit compulsory instead of promoting Assamese in the schools under the state board as declared by the Assam cabinet on February 28, 2017.
Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal said that Sanskrit as a subject will be made mandatory for students up to 7th standard. Sanskrit should be learned by the young generation as Sanskrit has led to the evolution of other languages in the country, he added.
What is Madrassa education as per the Bill
The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialization of Services of Employees and Re-Organization of Madrasa Educational Institutions) Bill describes “The Madrassa Education" in its Para 3(L) as a system of special education in which instruction is imparted in Arabic, Urdu, Persian, Quran, Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, Usul, Aquaid, Mantique, Hiqmat, Balagat, Islamic History along with same or all general subjects like Modem Indian Language, English, Hindi, Mathematics, General Science, Social Science, Computer, Technical and Vocational education up to secondary school level; the syllabus, curriculum and examination for which are regulated by the Madrassa Education Board, Assam, up to the level of Fadilul-Ma'rif (FM) and Mumtaz-ul-Muhaddithin (MM);
What AAMSU says
Reacting sharply to the decision All Assam Minority Students' Union (AAMSU) said it was one of the moves of the BJP-led Assam government to harass the Muslims. AAMSU president, Rejaul Karim Sarkar, in an elaborate interview to G Plus said, "They are trying to create a divide amongst us. As Shaheen Bagh was used by the BJP in Delhi, here they are trying to use the Muslim community to fulfill their political agenda in the 2021 elections. Himanta Biswa Sarma's main target is the Muslims, both economically, politically and socially. He has been repeatedly trying to harass the Muslims in Assam - be it through the NRC or by denying education, jobs or employment. In his tenure as the education minister, he had contributed towards the Madrassas and conducted meetings. It is his conspiracy. Madrassas don't teach only religion. There is a single subject of Arabic but all other subjects are also taught, like in any other educational institution.
“He is misusing his power to deprive the Muslims from proper education. We demanded that the Madrassas be modernized and provided with more qualified staff, as many backward villages do not have any other school apart from the Madrassa. We were promised of the same. However, the BJP is now conspiring against us so that they can get the Hindu votes.
“The people who were evicted from Kaziranga have not been sent back to Bangladesh. For these are local Assamese people.
“The CAA protests have greatly affected BJP's popularity as the Assamese intelligentsia has gone against them. So now they have taken up this agenda as vote bank politics.
“This shows that Himanta Biswa can go to any extent to fulfill his political interest. I appeal that the chief minister rethinks on this issue and drops the decision of closing down Madrassas. Instead, he must modernize them for the benefit of the students of the state.
“We will never accept this decision and if required AAMSU will also take legal action. Sarma has been holding the post of education minister for quite some time. Yet there is no development in the infrastructure of schools and there is not enough qualified teaching staff. In order to cover their failures BJP is targeting the Muslims to gain Hindu votes."
Kaushal Kalita, Executive President of Lokbhasa Prasar Samity, Assam said, "Swami Vivekananda had said that Sanskrit and 'Sanskriti' (culture) are the backbones of India's foundation. NASA has proven that Sanskrit is the most suitable language for use in computers. Most of the eminent personalities of Assam as well as India have passed out from the Sanskrit schools called 'Tol'. The decision of the government to shut down these Tols is very unfortunate. It is an insult for the Hindu religion.
“Although the Arabic taught in the madrassas is a foreign language, Sanskrit is the soul of India. That they have conspired to remove Sanskrit from the education curriculum is a matter of remorse."
He further said, "The Madrassas give only religious education. If anti-nationals are borne by the Madrassas, then the government should take strict action against them. These should be shut down. But in doing so if they close down the tols or remove this cultural language from the academics, it would not be tolerated."