Can Assam’s Plan To Shut Down All Madrassas Be Replicated In Rest Of India?

Can Assam’s Plan To Shut Down All Madrassas Be Replicated In Rest Of India?

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Monday, March 20, 2023 07:24 PM IST
Can Assam’s Plan To Shut Down All Madrassas Be Replicated In Rest Of India?Children at a Madrassa (School) in Noida. (Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • The Assam government has realised that it is near-impossible to monitor private madrassas and keep a strict eye on what is taught in these institutions. 

    Hence, it decided to close them down. It had already shut down government madrassas in 2022.

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said during a visit to Belagavi in Karnataka late last week that his government plans to shut down all privately-run madrassas in the state soon.

Assam had, last year, shut down all the 600-odd government madrassas and converted them into regular schools under the state education board. 

There are still 2500-odd private madrassas in the state, and the Assam government had put in place a number of measures to monitor them. 

But, say top police officials, monitoring all these 2500-odd private madrassas, especially the ones in areas populated mostly by Bangladesh-origin Muslims, is proving to be a difficult task. 

The 2500-odd private madrassas in Assam are run by five boards--the All Assam Tanzim Madaris Qaumiya, All Assam Talimi Tarakkee Board, Madras Education Board Al Hafiz (Salafi), Adara Madaris Islamia and All Assam Ahle Sunnat Madrasa. 

The Assam government had, last year, asked these private boards to provide complete details of their students, teachers, land records and affiliations to bodies outside the state and the country. They were also asked to seek prior permission and get police clearance before employing people from outside the state as teachers. 

Those steps were initiated after many Islamist radicals arrested from the state were found to have links with private madrassas. They were teaching in these madrassas and were radicalising students. 

These teachers were found to have strong links with al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (aQIS) and the Bangladesh-based Islamic terrorist group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). 

Two teachers at a madrassa in Goalpara district were found to be Bangladeshi nationals. The nationality of some other teachers was also suspect. 

“We have realised that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep stringent tabs on all private madrassas. We have to accept their declarations about the identities of teachers they employ and their syllabus and it is impossible to undertake a physical verification of those details,” a top Assam Police officer told Swarajya

This problem pertains to areas, especially in lower Assam, that are heavily populated by Bangladesh-origin Muslims. 

“There is absolutely no problem with Assamese Muslims, and very few of them send their children to madrassas anyway. The number of Assamese Muslim children in madrassas is negligible. The problem is with Bengali-speaking Muslims who, or whose parents and grandparents, have migrated from East Pakistan and Bangladesh,” said the Inspector General-ranked officer who has been monitoring the radicalisation of Bangladesh-origin Muslims in Assam.

The officer said that Bangladesh-origin Muslims are highly susceptible to radicalisation.

“They are generally very poor and since most of their claims to Indian nationality are based on forged or fake documents, they are vulnerable and need protection of influential clerics. All these clerics, trained in Deoband, are Salafis and quite radical. And these clerics radicalise young and impressionable boys and girls from the Bengali-speaking Muslim community through the madrassas,” said the officer. 

The state authorities carried out random and discreet surveys of what is being taught in some madrassas in the Bengali Muslim-dominated Dhubri, Goalpara and Barpeta districts earlier this year. 

“The surveys confirmed our fears that despite the state government’s efforts to monitor the madrassas and make them accountable, many of them were inculcating radical Islamist ideology among the students. Clerics teaching in these madrassas preach hatred for kafirs (non-believers), Islamic supremacism, and Salafism that promotes terrorism,” the deputy commissioner of a lower Assam district told Swarajya

The Assam government has, thus, realised that it is impossible to monitor the private madrassas and keep a strict eye on what is taught in these institutions. 

“And anyway, there is no need to impart lessons on theology in madrassas. We need doctors, engineers, scientists, architects and other professionals, not Muslim clerics. Religious education can be imparted in homes and there is no necessity for madrassas. That’s why we have decided to close down the private madrassas,” chief minister Sarma said. 

A senior cabinet minister who did not want to be named since he is not the designated state government spokesperson told Swarajya: “Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains or Sikhs do not send their children to any institutions for theology lessons. There is no need for Muslims to have madrassas, especially when radical Deobandis preach the regressive and extremist Salafi Islam to young boys and girls and radicalise them”. 

The grave problem of radicalisation of young men and women in madrassas is, however, not peculiar to Assam alone. Many madrassas, especially the private ones, in other states of the country have radical clerics as teachers who preach Salafi Islam. 

And that is why other states need to learn from Assam and emulate the tough stand against radicalisation of youngsters by Islamist clerics by closing down madrassas

As the Assam chief minister said, madrassas have no place in “new India”. They are not needed. What India needs is more schools and colleges that turn out doctors, engineers, scientists and professionals. Madrassas only produce clerics, many of them radicals. 

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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