Disbanding madrasa and Sanskrit boards in Assam: How a progressive decision gets mired in controversy

The decision of the BJP-led government in Assam to disband the State Madrasa Board in order to mainstream it apparently seems to be quite forward-looking. The decision to simultaneously dissolve the Sanskrit Board has deprived the regular critics of the government a very good chance to lambast it by flagging the card of discrimination in the name of religion.

Assam Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. PTI

Assam Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. PTI

But even then, there are some important factors which could not be overlooked due to the peculiar socio-demographic history of Assam where immigration of Bengali speaking people from the neighbouring countries has resulted in the emergence of certain narratives and counter-narratives over the ticklish issue of human migration.

The present day map of Assam is different in several ways from the one in the colonial times. For some years under the British, Assam was a part of East Bengal which comprised the entire land mass of present day Bangladesh. At other times, Sylhet district was a part of Assam. It remained so up to India’s independence and partition. The migration of people from one part of the state or the country to the other was quite common. But even then, much before India’s freedom, many leaders of the state raised their voice quite strongly against the unending stream of immigrants.

As a result, after independence, and especially after the famous Assam Agitation of 1979-85, issues pertaining to Bangladeshi immigration, border sealing, and undue population pressure on limited resources have started occupying the centre stage in state politics. The present day politics in the state has been inextricably linked with those narratives. Sometimes, it becomes pronounced, and at other times, it remains somewhat subterranean in nature.

While analysing the recent statements of the state Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on social media regarding the decision of the government, one should not lose sight of the context which has structurally remained more or less same in the state for many decades, of course with some outwards changes. In addition to the Modi factor, BJP’s stellar performance in the 2016 assembly elections in Assam was greatly facilitated by the creeping fear in the minds of many indigenous people about the possibility of their identity and culture being overshadowed by the ever increasing number of the immigrants from Bangladesh.

After dissolving the Madrasa Board, Sarma wants to hand over the academic part to the Board of Secondary Education. Similarly, the responsibility of looking after the Sanskrit Tols would be given to Kumar Bhaskarvarma Sanskrit and Ancient Studies University. He also hinted at the introduction of modern learning like computer education with a view to widening its appeal. All Assam Minority Students’ Union (Aamsu) has already registered its protest against the decision to disband the Madrasa Board. They have decided to burn effigies of the minister throughout the state as a mark of their opposition.

Azizur Rahman, president, Aamsu has decried the move of the government terming it as unconstitutional. He referred to Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution wherein the need for taking up certain steps for improving the educational and social status of minorities was highlighted. He also felt that Sarma’s decision runs counter to the oft-repeated slogan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- Sabka saath, sabka vikash. They have threatened to launch a big agitation if the government does not rescind its earlier diktat.

Some political analysts feel that there is a grain of substance in Aamsu’s allegation that Sarma is doing this to please the RSS. They also feel that Aamsu’s strong opposition is not disproportionate to the original decision as the minister had said something very disturbing in December 2016. Sarma appealed to all the madrasas to shift their weekly holiday from Friday to Sunday to be in line with other educational institutions of the state. He also said that only the madrasas in Bangladesh or Pakistan should remain shut on Fridays. Because of such earlier utterances laced with disdain for the minority community, their reaction has turned out to be much sharper. But the sad part is sharp exchanges of rhetorical statements by both the parties would further toxify the social discourse without leaving any room for the development of fraternal feeling among different groups.

Metaphorically speaking, the present situation in Assam is somewhat like troubled waters, which many commoners try to avoid whereas politicians are often found to be fishing relentlessly and remorselessly.

Updated Date: May 11, 2017 16:21 PM

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