For some years now, madrassas in many districts of Assam have been a law unto their own. They have been framing and following their own rules and regulations in a totally arbitrary and illegal manner. And they were allowed to do so by the previous Congress government, which has misruled the state for 15 years since 2001 before being unseated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) earlier this year, as part of the Congress’ longstanding policy of minority appeasement.
One of these self-framed practice, which has no sanction by law is that of giving themselves a holiday on Friday. This is over and above the state-sanctioned holiday on Sunday that all educational institutions, and government and private establishments all over the country, enjoy. Assam Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who scripted the BJP’s spectacular victory in the state Assembly elections earlier this year, got to know a few days ago that madrassas in 11 districts of the state are closed on Fridays (apart from Sundays).
Sarma, a no-nonsense person known for his good governance skills, immediately declared that these madrassas will not be allowed to give themselves an extra holiday on Friday. Instead, he said, the students and teachers would be allowed a one-hour break on Friday afternoon for their ‘Jummah Namaz’ (Friday prayers) since that prayer is considered to be the most important by Muslims.
“Madrassa teachers get their salaries from the government for working on Fridays. So why should madrassas remain closed on Fridays? There is no law which allows closure of madrassas on Fridays anywhere in India. Sunday is the only officially-sanctioned holiday for all institutions and establishments across the country,” said Sarma. He pointed out that only in Islamic countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh madrassas, institutions and establishments are closed on Fridays.
Sarma said that a circular would be issued soon to all institutions and establishments notifying that they can remain shut only on Sundays. He said that the practice of keeping madrassas closed on Fridays is most widespread in Lakhimpur, Nagaon and Morigaon districts, where Muslims, most of them of Bangladeshi-origin and whose citizenship status is suspect, have a large presence.
The minister was, however, considerate. “If madrassas want to remain closed on Friday instead of Sunday, they can give a representation to the state government. We will study it and forward it to the Union Government for approval,” he said. But, he made it clear, there was no way madrassas would be allowed to remain closed on Fridays. Sarma also pointed out that every religious and ethnic group in the country have holidays on days that are of religious or cultural significance to them.
Sarma’s crackdown on madrassas has, expectedly, triggered angry reactions from the Congress and Muslim leaders who have termed it communal. Former Congress minister Siddique Ahmed alleged that the BJP government in the state was pursuing a “communally divisive agenda”. He called upon Muslims of the state to boycott Sarma’s public programmes. Other Congress leaders also criticised Sarma’s statement.
However, Sarma’s determined action in halting an illegality has met with wide approval and acclaim in the state. Though powerful organisations like the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) have not issued any official statements, their leaders have privately lauded Sarma’s gutsy move. “Not many politicians would have had the courage to publicly point out and declare action against a wrong being committed by minority organisations. It would have been considered politically incorrect to do this in the past,” said a top AASU leader.
“Assam’s interests have always been sacrificed at the altar of minority appeasement by the Congress. Our state has been ruined by the illegal influx of Bangladeshis that the Congress has actively encouraged to build its vote bank in order to stay on in power. For the Congress, the interests of the party always came before the interests of the state and its indigenous people. Thankfully, this has changed and, hopefully, the current policy of treating all communities equally and not appeasing any one community will continue in Assam,” said a leader of the AJYCP.
Sarma’s move also found ringing endorsement from people outside the state. BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, who also played an instrumental role in the BJP’s win in Assam earlier this year, tweeted about this. Twitteratti from across the country proclaimed their total support for Sarma. On Sarma’s own Facebook and Twitter handles, thousands expressed their support. Newspapers in Assam have received thousands of letters from their readers endorsing Sarma’s action. Despite the Congress’ call, the minorities themselves have not protested this action publicly and, in fact, many Muslim leaders have privately welcomed it. The widespread public support for Sarma’s move only proves that the policy of minority-appeasement, which ultimately does little to improve the lot of minorities, no longer cuts ice with anyone anymore.
By Jaideep Mazumdar