Assam to convert govt-funded madrasas, Sanskrit tols to normal schools: Himanta Biswa Sarma

Tora Agarwala

Himanta Biswa Sarma said this move will happen in the next 'four-five' months. (File)

Assam’s Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has announced that all government-funded madrasas and Sanskrit tols (schools) will be shut, and converted into "normal" high schools.

“We have decided this because teaching Arabic, or some other language, or any religious text for that matter, is not the responsibility of the government,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma while addressing the local media after a government event at Guwahati’s Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra.

Sarma said this move will happen in the next “four-five” months. He added that “if someone uses their own money to teach religion, it is okay but state funds cannot be used to impart religious education”. “We cannot be teaching the Bhagavad Gita or Bible in schools,” he said.

While Sarma made these comments following a government function in Guwahati, no official notification has followed yet. “We have not received official intimation regarding this announcement yet. We learnt about this development through media reports,” said Imran Hussain, chairman of State Madrassa Education Board, Assam.

According to Hussain, there are 706 madrassas under the State Madrassa Education Board across Assam. There are private madrassas too, but it is the government-funded ones that Sarma has said will shut down. According to the official website of the State Madrassa Education Board, the board was established during the colonial-era in 1934 when “when India was under British rule and Assam provincial government was in undivided Assam".

The state-funded madrasas run exactly like government schools and the subjects taught are in compliance with the state education board curriculum, but with two extra subjects: Arabic language and theology.

According to Guwahati-based activist Abdul Kalam Azad, there is one kind of ‘private’ madrasa where only Islamic education is imparted. These have mushroomed in areas where there are no government schools or government-aided madrasas.

“For long, we have been demanding that the government should take these under their wing and introduce modern education in these specific madrasas,” said Azad. “The new decision is pretty pointless since the government is not doing anything about the madrasas which actually require help.”

Prabhat Das, Deputy Director for Sanskrit Education, Assam, also said he was out of the office and not aware of the exact nature of the development.

Sanskrit tols fall under the Department of Secondary Education in Assam. According to reports, there are 97 provincialised tols and more than a hundred venture tols. “The objective of these tols has always been to spread awareness and use of the Sanskrit language. They follow the state board curriculum. The only difference is that while in other schools, Sanskrit is an elective, here there are two compulsory Sanskrit papers,” said Hitesh Das, All Assam Shikshak Karmachari Sansthan.

He said this move by the government harms the Sanskrit language a lot. “No one knows much about this language anyway. And while Sanskrit is a Vedic language, tols do not impart religious education. In fact, children of all religions study here.”