Indian state shuts down Islamic schools

Himanta Biswa Sarma

An Indian state ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP party has passed a law converting state-run Islamic schools into secular schools.

More than 700 madrasas in Assam will be shut by April, the state’s education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told the local assembly.

“We need more doctors, police officers, bureaucrats, and teachers, from the minority Muslim community rather than imams for mosques,” said Sarma, a rising star in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party.

The government would convert them to regular schools as education provided in the madrasas could not prepare anyone for “the temporal world and its earthly concerns,” he said.

Once the law is passed, the madrasas will become “secular schools” which will not teach students about the Quran, officials said.

According to the 2011 government census, Muslims make up 34.22% of Assam’s total population.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Opposition politicians criticised the move and said it reflected the government’s anti-Muslim attitude in the Hindu-majority country. “The idea is to wipe out Muslims,” said Wajed Ali Choudhury, a lawmaker from the opposition Congress party.

Senior state opposition leader Debabrata Saikia claimed the new law was passed by the BJP to “consolidate more Hindu votes.” “It is a polarisation tactic,” Saikia said. “(The BJP) is trying to do it in an official capacity. There is no such need for a law.”

In recent years India has been accused by human rights groups and activists of promoting an aggressive Hindu nationalism that first and foremost targets the country’s 200 million Muslims.

In October 2019 India’s Supreme Court awarded Hindus control of a site in the town of Ayodhya where Hindu mobs destroyed a historic mosque in 1992.

In December 2019 a new anti-Muslim citizenship bill was passed in Parliament, sparking mass protests around the country. The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Critics across India say the bill is discriminatory.

And on Tuesday more than 100 retired senior civil servants and diplomats urged the BJP government in India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh to repeal a new law criminalising forced religious conversion of brides, which is seen as aimed against Muslims.

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