India’s Assam State Bans Islamic Schools Ahead of Local Elections

Assam’s BJP Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has targeted Muslims in Assam state for years, particularly focusing on immigrants from Bangladesh.

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Rabat – India’s Hindu-Nationalist party has passed a law banning government-run Islamic schools in Assam state, in the country’s northeast. Located to the north of Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the Hindu Nationalist party of Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi, which approved the controversial new law, controls Assam.

The Indian state now aims to close its more than 700 state-run Islamic schools by April, and convert them to secular public schools. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) introduced the law. “We need more doctors, police officers, bureaucrats, and teachers, from the minority Muslim community rather than imams for mosques,” stated Assam’s BJP Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

According to Reuters, Sarma said that Islamic education does not prepare anyone for “the temporal world and its earthly concerns.” Sarma has served as a career politician in Assam state for nearly two decades and many see him as a rising star in Modi’s Hindu Nationalist BJP. He has targeted Muslims in Assam state for years, particularly focusing on immigrants from Bangladesh.

Sarma has previously pushed to close mosques on Sundays, warned against a “distortion” of the local culture by Bangladeshi immigrants, and has called the existence of Islamic schooling a remnant of British colonial rule of India. He called students attending madrassas “ignorant” to their schools’ alleged intent of turning aspiring doctors and engineers into Imams.

Political stunt

The ban on government-run Islamic schools is likely a political stunt by Sarma to ingratiate himself further with India’s Islamophobic Hindu nationalists. With local Assembly elections coming in April, Sarma is using similar Islamophobic rhetoric to that which is popular among India’s Hindu nationalist scene. 

Sarma’s BJP is competing with the anti-immigration party Assam People’s Council (AGP) in the polls. The ban on Islamic schools is likely a move to convince local voters that India’s largest party, the BJP, will be the toughest on local Muslims. While many locals have opposed immigration regardless of religion, the BJP aims to make it a Hindu-Muslim issue.

The April deadline set for the school closures happens to coincide with the upcoming local elections. When Sarma introduced the bill on December 28, he tweeted that “once the Bill is passed, the practice of running Madrassa by the Government in Assam will come to an end.” He ended his message by implying the Madrassas were a remnant of British colonialism.

It appeared last week that India’s Prime Minister Modi was backing away from Islamophobic politics, but the closure of Islamic schools shows the trend continuing on a local level. 

Opposition politicians in Assam state spoke out about the ban targeting Islamic schools. Assam Legislative Assembly Member Wazed Ali Choudhury stated that “the idea is to wipe out Muslims.”