Assam is boldly doing what no other state in India has dared to do. But all other states need to follow in Assam’s footsteps.
After closing down all government-funded madrassas and converting them to regular schools, Assam is now tightening the screws on the 3,000-odd private madrassas in the state.
Assam’s Director General of Police (DGP) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta listed out a set of regulations for the private madrassas late last week. These regulations were framed at the express instructions of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Mahanta told representatives of five private madrassa education boards that all the institutions would have to register themselves with the government within a specified time frame.
The registration process is, in itself, elaborate and all private madrassas have to provide minute information on their functioning, finances and administration.
The private madrassas have to provide all particulars of the land, along with pattas, they have been built on. This will expose the private madrassas which have been built illegally on government land.
Such illegally-constructed madrassas will, logically, have to shift to private land that they purchase or that is donated to them. Or they will have to face demolition.
The state government has made it mandatory for all private madrassas to provide details of their finances — their sources of funds, their detailed expenditure statement, their bank accounts and all financial transactions they have made in the past few years.
Another very important information they have to furnish is details of their teachers, including the educational qualifications and other credentials.
DGP Mahanta told madrasssa board representatives that all madrassas will have to seek prior permission of the state government for engaging teachers from outside the state.
The police will verify the credentials of the teachers and only after getting a green signal from the police will the madrassas be able to employ them.
A few more regulations have been framed by the Assam government. One among them is that the distance between two madrassas has to be a minimum of three kilometres. Every madrassa should have a minimum enrolment of a hundred students.
This, explained a senior state government official, will dilute the heavy concentration of madrassas, many of them with just a few students, in Muslim-dominated pockets of the state.
“This regulation will help the government maintain a strict watch over madrassas and what they teach,” he explained.
The private madrasa boards have been asked to furnish complete details of all madrassas affiliated with them by 1 December.
“One of the most important conditions laid down by the state government is that the private or quami madrassas have to incorporate subjects like science and mathematics in their curriculum. Also, the theology teachers at these madrassas have to undergo training in general subjects according to their aptitude,” said the senior government officer.
Also, the state government aims to constantly upgrade the curriculum of these private madrassas and, eventually, introduce liberal arts subjects.
“That will be for the good of the students of these private madrassas. At present, the tens of thousands of young men who pass out of these madrassas face a bleak future as they do not get regular government or private jobs. Becoming theology teachers or clerics is their only option. But once they are taught regular science subjects and humanities, they will become employable,” said a close aide of the Chief Minister.
The move to regulate and strictly monitor the private madrassas in the state came after a number of Islamist radicals affiliated to various terror outfits were arrested in the state over the past two years.
Some of these terrorists were found to have close ties with some quami madrassas. At least three of them were Bangladeshi nationals who were staying in Assam illegally and teaching in madrassas.
These Islamist radicals were found to be affiliated to the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), the Al_Qaeda In The Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and some other terror groups.
Chief Minister Sarma told the state assembly in September that of the 84 Islamist radicals arrested in the state since 2016, 10 of them were teaching in or closely associated with quami (community) madrassas.
Two more Bangladeshi nationals who were teaching at a quami madrasa in Goalpara district of the state have been absconding since September this year. Local Muslims demolished the madrassa after they found out that the two teachers were Bangladeshi nationals with close links to jihadi outfits.
The Assam government had, before that, demolished three madrassas which were found to have employed teachers who were Islamist terrorists.
Last year, the Assam government shut down over 600 government-funded madrassas and converted them into regular schools administered by the state school education board. Chief Minister Sarma had then declared that Assam will no longer spend money from the state exchequer to fund religious education.
Why These Steps Were Necessary
There is no doubt that madrassas churn out young men who can never find regular jobs in private and government establishments. They not only lack the educational qualifications, but also the requisite skill sets, including soft skills, that are required for regular jobs.
The only option before them is to become clerics in mosques, or theology teachers in madrassas. These provide subsistence-level incomes, leaving a huge mass of young men in the country angry and frustrated. That makes them prime targets for radicalisation.
But closing down quami madrassas at one go would be a radical step that may trigger acute resentment and even unrest. Islamist radicals can then feed on this mass resentment to radicalise and then recruit young men and women into the jihadi outfits.
That is why Assam, under Chief Minister Sarma, is sagaciously taking one step at a time.
“The process of mainstreaming the private madrassas has to be gradual. It has to be a slow process that starts with registering and closely monitoring the madrassas, regulating what they teach, introducing science and mathematics and then liberal arts subjects so that Islamist studies and theology ultimately becomes just one additional subject that is taught,” said a senior state leader who did not want to be named.
“Once we can mainstream the private madrassas and transform them into regular schools where Islamic studies is just an additional subject, we will be able to ensure that no student who passes out of these institutions is a radical Islamist. There is ample evidence that some quami madrassas are breeding grounds for jihadis,” he added.
Also, monitoring the financial transactions of the quami madrassas is important since many of them receive funds from the regressive and radical Salafi institutions in Islamic countries.
That is why the slow and steady steps being taken by the Assam government to regulate and ultimately mainstream all private madrassas is worthy of emulation in the rest of the country.
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