This Is How Assam Is Showing The Way In Defeating Islamic Radicalism

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Sep 8, 2022 09:45 PM +05:30 IST
This Is How Assam Is Showing The Way In Defeating Islamic RadicalismAssam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma
  • Local Muslims demolished a madrassa in Darogar Alga village in Pakhiuara area of Goalpara district in Assam.

Assam witnessed a rare sight Tuesday (6 September): Muslims tearing down a madrassa whose teachers are linked to Islamist terror outfits and were silently radicalising some local youths.

The act was not an aberration, but the outcome of a series of steps taken by the state government helmed by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to crack down on Islamist outfits and radical Muslims in the state.

Sarma had sounded the alarm over his state turning into a hotbed of Islamist fundamentalism in early August after a series of Islamist terror modules were busted in the state.

Later the same month, the Assam CM said that many madrassas in the state had become terror hubs and centres for propagating radical Islam.

Over the past few months, more than 40 jihadis belonging to the Bangladesh-born Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT)--a front of the al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (aQIS)--were arrested from Muslim-dominated districts of lower Assam.

Most arrested terrorists had been working as imams (preachers) in mosques and as teachers in madrassas. Many of them had entered India illegally from Bangladesh.

Crackdown on Islamist radicals

Chief Minister Sarma ordered a crackdown on radical Islamists and asked the police to step up surveillance on mosques and madrassas, as well as imams and teachers.

In fact, soon after taking over as Chief Minister in June 2021, Sarma focused on rooting out Islamic radicalism and busting terror modules.

One of his first acts as chief minister was to order the closure of 800-odd government-run madrassas in the state. He converted them into regular schools.

“Experience all over the world has shown that young minds are mostly radicalised in madrassas. To tackle the source of radicalisation, one has to focus on madrassas and what is taught there, who the teachers are and what sort of activities happen in the madrassas,” said Sarma.

The decision to close the government-run madrassas in the state was based on the need to provide modern education to Muslim girls and boys enrolled in the madrassas.

“In a secular nation, no government should have any business imparting religious education to anyone. Since the focus of education in madrassas is Islamic education, we decided to close down the madrassas and convert them into regular schools,” said Sarma.

Vigil on private madrassas

The state also mounted strict vigil on the 1,500-odd private madrassas and asked them to register themselves, provide details of what they teach, their students and, most importantly, their teachers.

The Assam government has now asked the private madrassas to introduce subjects like science, mathematics, geography and social sciences in their curricula.

State police chief Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta was asked to meet representatives of various Muslim organisations that run madrassas in the state and lay down certain guidelines.

“The organisations were asked to get the credentials of all teachers of madrassas, as well as clerics in the mosques, vetted by the police. And they were asked to focus on imparting modern education through subjects like social sciences, mathematics and science so that the madrassas churn out young men and women who can get jobs instead of becoming only clerics,” said Mahanta.

All the organisations running madrassas were asked to provide details of their sources of funds and their bank statements of the past few years. “We want to keep a watch and prevent Islamist organisations, especially foreign ones, from funding madrassas and mosques in Assam,” said a senior police officer.

Muslim organisations and community leaders, as well as ordinary folks were asked to keep vigil and report anyone involved in suspicious activities.

Outreach to Muslims

A massive outreach programme was launched and it was explained to Muslim organisations and community leaders that ordinary Muslims would be adversely affected if jihadis were found in their midst.

“We explained to Muslim community leaders and elders that the arrest of a radical Islamist or terrorist would lead to extensive interrogation of local community members and that would amount to avoidable harassment.

Hence, it is important for everyone to cooperate with the state authorities and report the presence of radicals, terrorists and any suspicious or unknown individuals in their midst,” said a senior police officer of Barpeta district who has been involved in the outreach programme.

This is exactly what led to the demolition of the madrassa in Darogar Alga village in Pakhiuara area of Goalpara district. The police had arrested Jalaluddin Sheikh, the administrator of the madrassa, a few days ago for his links with the ABT.

Sheikh confessed that he had engaged two Bangladeshi nationals--Aminul Islam and Jahangir Alom--as teachers of the madrassa. The two are linked to the aQIS and absconded after Sheikh’s arrest.

The police started interrogating all residents of the village to find out more about the two aQIS terrorists. Some of the villagers, especially the adult males, were called a few times to the local police station for questioning.

“We felt harassed and intimidated, even though the actions of the police were not intended to be as such. We understood that the police were just doing their job. But what we had to go through because of the evil deeds of Jalaluddin Sheikh and the two teachers was bad for us.

We held a meeting amongst ourselves and decided to tear down the madrassa as well as the living quarters of the two teachers adjacent to it,” said Robiul Sheikh, a resident of the village.

Robiul and the other residents of Darogar Alga village now admit that they should have been more vigilant and kept tabs on the activities of the two madrassa teachers, who were non-locals.

“Had we kept a watchful eye on them, we would have got to know what they were up to and reported them to the police a long time ago. And we would then have been spared the hassle of interrogations by the police,” said Robiul.

This realisation is slowly dawning on Muslims of lower Assam districts which have become hotbeds of jihadists.

Appeasement of Muslims stopped

Apart from this, there is a growing realisation among Muslims that unlike in the past, the present government will not treat them with kid gloves and indulge in appeasement. And that the law will apply to everyone, irrespective of religion.

“In the past, under strict instructions from Congress governments in the state, the police would ignore unlawful activities of members of the Muslim community.

"The earlier appeasement policy also meant that the police did not keep any watch on the activities of even known Islamist radicals and those suspected to have links with radical or terror outfits,” said the senior police officer.

But that is now a thing of the past and the police have been asked to be unsparing in their vigil. The intelligence machinery has been strengthened a lot with more manpower, infrastructure, financial allocation and other resources.

The state police are setting up a special cell to keep a watch on Islamist radicals and crack down on them. This special cell will also mount vigil on clerics and teachers in mosques and madrassas, and on various Islamic organisations in the state.

While appeasement and slackness of past Congress governments in the state had resulted in Assam turning into a ‘hotbed of jihadists’, the state is now showing the way in battling Islamist radicalism under the present dispensation headed by Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Also read: Explained: Why Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said his State has become a “hotbed of jihadists”

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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