Assam's Govt-Funded Madrasas, Sanskrit Tols to Shut Down Soon, Says Himanta

Education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had given a funding boost to madrasas when he held the same portfolio in the earlier Congress government.

Guwahati: Assam’s finance and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has announced that all state-aided madrasas and Sanskrit tols will be shut down in the coming months.

Sarma, as education minister in the earlier Congress government in the state, had led the initiative to provide funds to madrasas.

Sarma said the state government was not willing to spend money on ‘religious’ education and it was not the “duty of the state” to “teach Arabic or other religious scriptures”.

Sarma made the announcement to reporters after a education department programme. He said that if “religious teachings” (implying the education in madrasas) are given state funding, then the Gita or the Bible should also receive state funds.

He said all state-aided madrasas and tols will be restructured into “regular” high and higher secondary schools.

“The teachers in madrasas can stay at home without worrying about their salaries as the government will be paying them till their retirement. Someone can teach religious scriptures with their own money but now the government will no longer provide money. It is not the duty of the government to teach Arabic, or some other language, or religious scriptures,” Sarma told reporters.

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The All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) has declared the move to shut down madrasas and tols a communal one.

“What Sarma implied had a very communal undertone. When he was a Congress education minister, he himself provided funds and aided the madrasas. And now he has done a volte-face. It is clear that both he and the BJP have nothing else to do. They are trying to strip the minority community from all possible avenues whether it is political, economic, citizenship and now education. The decision will hurt religious sentiments of our Hindu brothers as well. Both tols and madrasas are intrinsic to our religious values,” said Rejaul Karim Sarkar, AAMSU president.

There are around 707 madrasas in Assam and 614 are recognised by the state madrasa board. Of around 1,000 Sanskrit tols, only 97 are aided by the state government.

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The madrasas are of two types, kharijia or hafezi which are mostly public-funded, and the high madrasas. In the former, religious education is imparted, pursuing which enables a student to be ordained as a maulana. The latter is where general education is imparted along with limited parallel religious discourse.

The Wire reached out to Abdul Kayom, the former secretary of the madrasa board, who said the decision was against the ethos of both Hindus and Muslims. “What Sarma said was also totally against the principles of the Indian constitution. Pursuing religious education is everyone’s right. The institutions have been plunged into uncertainty,” he said.

The official website of the State Madrassa Education Board (SMEB) says the Assam Education Act 1934 was passed to provide for the establishment of a Board for Muslim Education to regulate, supervise and develop Muslim education in the state in 1934.

A Gauhati University professor from the Sanskrit department upon being contacted by The Wire said, “We need to have proper details about the decision. It is too early to speculate.” The professor also said that tols were in dire need of upgradation.