Uttar Pradesh: Court ruling effectively outlaws Islamic schools in India’s most populous state


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Muslim students read the Quran at an Islamic school or madrasa in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir.

New Delhi

A court in India’s most populous state has effectively banned Islamic schools by striking down on a law governing madrasas, weeks before a nationwide election that could further polarize the world’s largest democracy along religious lines.

The Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh on Friday declared the Madrasa Act of 2004 to be unconstitutional, according to a court order seen by CNN, while ordering the state government to move students enrolled in the Islamic system into mainstream schools.

“We hold that the Madarsa (sic) Act, 2004, is violative of the principle of Secularism, which is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India,” the high court said in its order.

“Since providing education is one of the primary duties of the State, it is bound to remain secular while exercising its powers in the said field. It cannot provide for education of a particular religion, its instructions, prescriptions and philosophies or create separate education systems for separate religions.”

Madrasas provide a system of education in which students are taught about the Quran and Islamic history alongside general subjects like math and science.

Some Hindus also send their children to an equivalent system known as Gurukuls, residential education institutions where students learn about ancient Vedic scriptures alongside general subjects under a “guru” or teacher.

The ruling can be appealed in the country’s Supreme Court.

Uttar Pradesh is home to some 200 million people, about 20% of whom are Muslim, according to the country’s most recent census data from 2011.

It is governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and has over the past decade made headlines for passing some of the country’s most controversial laws that critics say discriminate against Muslims and marginalize them in the secular republic.

Friday’s court order affects 2.7 million students and 10,000 teachers in 25,000 madrasas, Reuters reported, citing Iftikhar Ahmed Javed, the head of the board of madrasa education in the state.

It comes weeks before a nationwide election – the world’s largest – during which an estimated 960 million people are eligible to vote.

Modi’s BJP is expected to secure another five years in power, ruling an India that has become increasingly polarized along religious lines.

While the Allahabad High Court order cited India’s constitutional separation of religion and state in its reasoning for ruling against madrasas, it is Modi who has been frequently accused by critics of dismantling India’s secular traditions.

At the start of the year, for example, Modi presided over a landmark inauguration ceremony of a controversial Hindu temple built on the ruins of a centuries-old mosque that was destroyed by right-wing groups in 1992.

02:31 – Source: CNN

See why this long-anticipated temple has divided India

The temple’s opening, which was broadcast live by the government and hailed as a new era, was the conclusion of a decades-long campaign by Modi and his BJP party to pull India away from the secular roots upon which the country was founded following independence.

Many Muslims and critics of the BJP have raised concerns that India’s secular fabric is also being eroded as anti-Muslim hate speech make frequent headlines and Muslim-owned properties face demolitions.

The BJP denies it discriminates against Muslims and says it treats all citizens equally.

In December 2020, the northeastern state of Assam passed a law to convert all Islamic schools to regular education institutions.

The state’s then Education Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is now Assam’s chief minister, said it would ensure “a right to equal education for all children and eases the path to higher education.”

Opposition politicians criticized the move, claiming it was reflective of hardening anti-Muslim attitudes in the Hindu-majority country.

Senior state opposition leader Debabrata Saikia at the time said the law was passed by the BJP to “consolidate more Hindu votes.”

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