BJP led Assam government in the past week, decided to shut down all the state-run madrasas and Sanskrit tols. 6 months earlier, the Assam government had proposed the same. But initially, it was only talking about madrasa. The government was not sure how to tackle the Sanskrit tols. The education minister of Assam, Mr. Himanta Biswa Sarma said that it was not the duty of the government to run educational institutions that are involved in imparting religious educations. Minister said that the government was motivated to take steps towards ‘Secular Education’. As per the minister, the government is doing just what the constitution and supreme court said. The government should stay secular and this is what minister Sarma claim.
This step of government has faced a lot of criticism from various prominent people. Mixed reactions have come from various places.
The Decision of the Government
BJP government of Assam which is led by Sarbananda Sonowal has passed a bill that dissolves the state-run madrasa and Sanskrit tols. The government has passed a bill that is going to dissolve the State Education Madrasa Board. There are currently 610 government-run madrasas and 100 Sanskrit tols which are being funded by the Assam government. The government aims to shut all the madrasa and convert them into schools for general education. But there will be no threat to the jobs of those who were teaching in these madrasas. They will continue to teach various subjects in new schools that will be opened in place of these madrasas. New schools that will be opened at the place of these madrasas will teach according to the curriculum set by the Assam government along with Arabic as an additional language.
Meanwhile, the Sanskrit tols which will be closed would be changed into study centers, research centers, and institutions. They will offer a different kind of certificate, diploma, or degree courses in ancient literature, culture, traditions, and civilizations. They will operate under the Kumar Bhaskar Varma Sanskrit and Ancient Studies University, Nalbari. Teachers of the Sanskrit tols will be transferred to the nearest high or higher secondary schools. They might also be kept at the services of the Kumar Bhaskar Varma Sanskrit and Ancient Studies University. This decision of the government is not meant to stop any private run madrasas and tols. They will keep functioning as they did earlier. Deputy speaker of the Assam assembly, Aminul Haque Laskar said that the functioning of privately run madrasas won’t be affected by this bill. He pointed towards the importance of these madrasas for the Muslim community and said that “as these have kept Muslims alive.”
Why are these Madrasas and Tols being Closed?
The education minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa emphasized a survey and constitution to support the government’s decision. He emphasized the survey conducted by a ‘Muslim professor’ of the Assam University. This survey stated that most of the parents did not know that their kids were taught subjects of theology. No regular education was given to these kids, rather only religious texts were taught to them. The government of Assam wants to bring uniformity in the education of all students and doesn’t want the growth of few students limited to theological subjects of religious scriptures. Education Minister also said that the functioning of the Sanskrit tols was not transparent. Result of which their funding from the government is being stopped.
The Assam’s education minister also emphasized the word ‘Secular’ as stated in the constitution. He said that the government did not want to mix religion and state. Hence, funding of religious school is being closed down.
Constitutional Validity of the Decision
The constitution of India under its article 28(1) provides that no religious instruction shall be given in educational institution which is wholly maintained out of state funds. Hence, no government across India shall fund educational institutions that are involved in imparting religious education. Also, the constitution under article 28(2) makes it clear that nothing said in article 28(1) shall come in way of the running of educational institutions that are administered by the state. But these educational institutions must have been formed based on endowment or trust with the main objective of imparting religious education.
This bill of the Assam government in no way affects the functioning of privately run educational institutions. Hence no community of Assam can claim that their fundamental right provided to them by the constitution of India is being affected by the said act.
The Supreme Court of India in 1984, while giving judgment in the S.R. Bommai Vs Union of India said something very important. In this judgment, the court held that the word secular undeniably sought to separate religion from politics. It went on to say that any government which acts in an unsecular way invites an action under article 356 of the Indian constitution. But if one reads the judgment of the Ismail Faruqi case, the reasoning of the Bommai case seems to have disappeared. It seems that between the two judgments, the Supreme court seems to have narrowed its definition of secularism. The version of secularism as said in the Ismail Faruqi vs Union of India case seems to leave no space for plural values. So, it is quite difficult to say that what is secularism as per the government of India. But a simple reading of the constitution and the bill makes it appear that there is no violation of the secular nature of a government in the aforesaid decision. Hence, the said law does not violate any of the rights guaranteed to the citizens under the constitution of India.
What is the Controversy around the Decision?
This decision seems to have created disturbances in some sections of the minority community. Islamic clerics are the ones who are strongly opposing the decision. Imam Mofidul Islam in an interview to India today states that Madrasas in Assam were made before independence. Thousands of students have passed from these educational institutions. The closing of this board will cause a lot of trouble for these students. He pointed toward the fact that general education is imparted along with religious teaching. In his opinion, if any problem is in the syllabus, the government should amend the syllabus. But the closing of these institutions is not right. Meanwhile, the state assembly’s deputy speaker said that the Madrasas have kept the Muslims alive for a long time. He said that the government is not closing down any of the privately run Madrasas. The All India United Democratic Front head, Badruddin Ajmal also spoke against the government’s decision.
Another point of controversy is the way two different educational institutions are being handled. The Sanskrit tols are being passed to the university as an institution that would be used as centers for Indian civilizational studies. Even though both the institution imparts theological syllabus, it is not clear as how one is being used for Indian civilizational studies and other is not.
The decision of closing religious educational institutions is something that will strengthen the secular image of the government. This definition of secularism would be similar to what the Supreme Court said in the SR Bommai case. Though one may argue that the government has to protect the religious rights of the citizens. But no such right is being harmed by this decision as to the privately run religious educational institutions i.e., Madrasas and Sanskrit tols are not being closed. Though the partial behavior in the way that the government chose one for the Indian civilization center may raise concerns. The multiple meaning of the word secularism adds to the problem when a government takes any decision in the functioning of any government institution with relation to religion. Keeping in mind this definition, the government should stop the prayers which are sung in the government schools. As they sometimes act as imparting of religious feelings and text. This was also challenged a few years ago in a case. The matter is still in court.
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