Assam’s new terror plot: One teacher, one board and 1,000 madrasas

Assam’s new terror plot: One teacher, one board and 1,000 madrasas

Though there is no official count of private madrasas in Assam, India Today NE investigation found that there are at least 1,000 private madrasas operational in Assam, up from 788 in 2016.

Saruchala Banat Madrassa(left) & Mufti Mustafa (right) Saruchala Banat Madrassa(left) & Mufti Mustafa (right)

The BJP-led Assam government is mulling over ways to regulate what is taught in over 1,000 private madrasas operational in the state. This comes in the wake of the recent arrest of 11 individuals from Morigaon, Barpeta, Guwahati and Goalpara district for their alleged links with global terror outfits including Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub-continent (AQIS) and Bangladesh-based Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). One of the persons detained was Mustafa alias Mufti Mustafa, was teaching in a madrasa—Saruchala Al-Jamiatus Salihat Madrasatul Banat—in the Saharia Gaon village in Morigaon.

“We are collecting reports and examining if we can enforce certain rules in the private madrassas and give direction to impart modern education there. We are taking legal opinion,” says Assam’s Education Minister Ranoj Pegu.  The government has already decided to convert government-funded madrasas into regular schools.

Though there is no official count of private madrasas in Assam, India Today NE investigation found that there are at least 1,000 private madrasas operational in Assam, up from 788 in 2016. There is no government record on the affiliation of these madrasas. “I am not aware of any board which is running these private madrasas. We don’t have any specific data on these madrassas,” says Pegu. However, Director General of Assam Police Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta claimed that the police have done a survey on these madrasas and have complete details. The top cop did not share details though.

During an independent investigation, India Today NE found that all private madrasas in Assam are run under the board of All Assam Tanzim Madaris Qawmiya, which is headquartered at Nilbagan in Hojai district. It is a private board which also has madrasas affiliated to it in Meghalaya and Nagaland too. Nearly 100,000 students are enrolled in these madrasas in Assam. The districts of Nagaon, Hojai, Dhubri and Goalpara have the highest number of madrasas and the enrolment rate in these districts is also very high.

Saruchala Al-Jamiatus Salihat Madrasatul Banat, the madrasa where Mustafa taught is also registered under All Assam Tanzim Madaris Qawmiya. He was also running another private madrasa from where he was arrested, confirmed Morigaon SP Aparna Natarajan to India Today NE. Government sources, however, clarified that the arrest of Mustafa doesn’t indicate that all madrasas or teachers and students associated with these have any terror link.

Interestingly, Mustafa’s madrasa was a Banat madrasa (meant only for girls), one of the three types of madrasas in the state—the other two being Arabia (quami madrasa run by the community) and Hafizia (where Quran Sharif is memorised). Between 2016 and 2021, the number of Banat madrasas in Assam has increased from 140 to 219, showing the highest growth among the three.

Students of Banat(meant only for girls) madrassa

While speaking to India Today NE, Moulana Abdul Quadir Quasimi, general secretary of All Assam Tanzim Madaris Qawmiya, also confirmed that Mustafa had been working part-time in a madrassa accredited by the board though the other madrasa he had been running was not affiliated to the board. Quasimi admits that despite strict monitoring by the board, some slips have happened. “We have asked madrasas to ensure that no suspicious people are admitted. Not only teachers but even students should also be scrutinized. No unidentified person should be allowed to stay as a guest. There are some who manage to evade scrutiny and we cannot install CCTV cameras everywhere,” he told India Today NE.
Set up in 1955, the all All Assam Tanzim Madaris Qawmiya was initially known as Madaris-E Quawmiya with the objective of not only setting up madrasas but also streamlining various segments of education and administrative works. In 1982, it got its current name. The board restricted its activities initially to the southern parts of Nagaon district, but gradually widened its network. Perfume baron and AIUDF chief Badaruddin Ajmal is the president of the board.

The preamble of the board says that it has been established to conserve and preserve Islam and to spread its ideology with Islamic science and knowledge throughout the world to produce such persons who could combat the misconceptions and misinterpretation spread against Islam and the madrassa and eradicate the forces hostile to Islam. Quasimi claims that the board doesn’t offer financial assistance to madrasas, but heads of some madrasas admitted, on condition of anonymity, that they received regular funds from the board.

The mushrooming of private madrasas has worried even the Muslim scholars and activists. According to Advocate Hafiz Rashid Choudhury, working committee member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, there is a need for a regulatory body to monitor the activities and functions of the madrasas. “Modern education like English, history, social studies need to be included along with religious education in the madrasas. A subject on comparative religion should also be introduced to strengthen the integrity of the nation,” Choudhury told India Today NE.

Rejaul Karim Sarkar, president of All Assam Minority Students’ Union, lamented the increase in the number of madrasas which have failed to fulfil their primary objectives. “We do need madrasas, but it doesn’t mean that these institutions start spreading everywhere. Many are functioning without even though they can’t produce one good student or Maulvi Hafizkari,” Sarkar told India Today NE.

Even Quasimi says that there are more madrassas than required, and the board has passed new norms to restrict growth of madrasas. For instance, if a madrasa for men wants to be accredited, it must ensure that no similar madrasa exist within a five-km radius.