Surrounded in a political climate where government decisions, its secularism, and its democracy are doubted extensively by domestic and international communities, a rigid decision to convert state funded madrassas (Islamic schools) and further regulate private madrassas can be very problematic. Even if the intentions were correct, the climate and approach of the bill raises many questions. Worsening the situation, many of the same questions have also been raised on other government decisions especially in the past year and so.
- Why was this bill rushed?
- Where is the data used to formulate this bill?
- What is the procedure to bring the repeal into effect without causing serious damages?
- Were stakeholder communities consulted with?
- How many chairs were thrown across the parliament room?
What is the Assam Repealing Bill (2020)?
This bill seeks to repeal two acts:
- The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation) Act, 1995.
- The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation of Services of Employees and Re-Organisation of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act, 2018.
Enforced from the academic year 2022-23, the Assam government will dissolve the State Madrassa Education Board, Assam (SMEB) and transfer all ownership and responsibilities of those madrassas to the Board of Secondary Education (SEBA). Furthermore, the names of those then-schools will drop the word ‘madrassa’. This is confirmed to have an effect on those Madrassas which are funded by the state at present.
Additionally, research shows that a decision was also made to convert the Sanskrit tols (learning centres) to study and research centres, also with effect from the academic year 2022-23. However, this can not be confirmed as there is no formal text listing the provisions of the Repealing Bill.
Assam State Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claims that the bill will empower the Muslim community stating: ”We don’t want votes. We don’t do appeasement. We have no vested interest with this community. But away from politics, we want to take that community forward… When doctors and engineers will come out from these schools it will bring laurels to you,” and even called it a “gift to Islamic society.”
The Problems With the Assam Repealing Bill
Conversion of State-Funded and Eventually Private Madrassas (Islamic Schools) to Regular Schools
The government backs these claims citing its secularism stating that religious learning should not be done on the funds of the government. However, private madrassas are also expected to be subject to the conditions of the new bill through a future law, and no option was given to sell off the state-controlled madrassas before placing the discussed changes.
We must ask:
- Why is there a lack of options to the community?
- Why will private madrassas be targeted?
- What about other religious schools?
Among many statements, a few have been cited as problematic as well. In some instances, claims have been made that certain moves have been against ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ and not Islam itself. Yet, there is a data drought of information backing claims that show that the problem exists with these madrassas.
Along with the previous claims, it was also stated that these Islamic schools provided ‘sub-standard education’. Many students took to the internet in response and mocked the entire Indian education system for many of its flaws as well, since a claim like this was being made. Yet again, there is no presentation of literature to back this claim.
While these discussions may seem like Madrassas were entirely devoted to Islamic teaching and that this ‘drastic’ change will be a gift to Muslims, the Education Minister Himanta Sarma was also quoted saying, “So far, they were providing 90 per cent general education and 10 per cent religious teaching.” If the ratio is a number that does not reflect the intensity of the scenario as it seems, there is definitely a problem with the way the changes were communicated, or a massive data and consultation gap indeed exists.
Erosion of Indian Secularism: An Attack on Muslims
“The idea is to wipe out Muslims,” said Wajed Ali Choudhury, a lawmaker from the opposition Congress party.
Uncomfortably close to the discussion of this bill, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh passed a problematic law seeking to combat what they term as ‘love-jihad’. Their problematic definition of the term paints it as an Islamic attempt to convert Hindu women to Muslim by means of deceit and marriage. Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, and Karnataka have also followed suit. Raising suspicion to the current climate, Assam also is not off the following list.
Over a 100 retired senior civil servants and diplomats called for the repealing of that law. As of January 6, 2021, the Indian Supreme Court has also issued a challenge against the validity of the love-jihad law.
Endless other events throughout the previous years can also be cited showing problematic decisions that damage India’s secular image. Summing them up, an international watchdog group- Genocide Watch- has issued alerts on possible genocide on the Muslim community in Kashmir and of course, Assam.
The Gaps in Data and Consultation
As stated multiple times above, a major problem with a lot of recent Indian decisions come down to common questions regarding the speed of decisions, data, and consultation used to make those decisions.
Even after spending a significant amount of time trying to find details about the quality of education in Madrassas and further details backing the reasoning of this bill, I failed to find substantial content. The coverage of the discussions as discussed above and as viewed in greater detail in the media further reflects this claim. Moreover, it seems that the media has dropped discussing this issue as a whole and no searches are found easily that aren’t older than a week or two.
For those reasons, I believe there were much better ways to go about the situation at hand. Based on my reflection, there are two lenses we can look through and provide a twin-approach that is both secular and Islamic in nature.
Proposed Alternative Approaches to the Assam Repealing Bill (2020)
Approach One: Softer Approach Through Islamic References Instead of A Down-Your-Throat Policy Push
1. If any of the madrassas prepare Muslims for a lifestyle that devotes their life to religion and avoid everything else, this can be denounced by referencing the Quran instead of via policy. When it comes to religion, a lot of changes are possibly in a softer manner through religious discourse rather than rules and regulations.
“As for monasticism, they made it up—We never ordained it for them—only seeking to please Allah, yet they did not ˹even˺ observe it strictly. So We rewarded those of them who were faithful. But most of them are rebellious.” [Quran 57:27]
2. A study of the Seerah (life of the Prophet Muhammad, P.B.U.H.) will show that the prophet, his family, companions, and his wives also gave significant focus on their professional life while doing justice to other parts of life including obviously religion. Many examples can also be taken from the relative future such as from the Golden Islamic ages and beyond. Even the present era is not devoid of examples. Many well-known Islamic scholars have professional expertise and many well-known professionals are known to be good Muslims.
If the Muslim community is perceived to be studying in a way that compromises on important factors of life to study religion, they should be shown a different approach through examples of Islam itself rather than enforcing government policy. The latter is bound to create controversy and distaste even if the intentions were good.
Approach Two: A Data-Driven, Research, Consultation, and Discussion Based Approach for Policy Formulation
- The policy should be delayed by another year. Instead of taking effect from April 2022, the policy should take effect from 2023.
- The policy in its current nature should be abandoned and re-discussed.
- For that reason, the additional proposed year should be spent in conducting research and consultations with stakeholders and experts to devise a more informed approach to the situation at hand.
- In the same time period, a proper methodology to implement the repeal and subsequent decisions should be devised.
- The new policy and procedures should not be finalised until April 2022 so adequate time for research and discussions is taken. Of course, if the extra year does not suffice, the policy should be delayed further. Rushing this will only cause more problems.
- As the belief behind needing this change is to make sure the Islamic community gives more professionals, awareness should be spread as proposed in the first approach.
How do you feel about this issue? Share your thoughts in the comments below and forward this post to your socials as well and spread the word. Stand up for those who need the support.
9 Links. Click to Expand.