A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging an Assam law that converted all government-funded madrassas into general schools, Live Law reported on Tuesday.

Thirteen petitioners have challenged the February 4 Gauhati High Court order that upheld the constitutional validity of the law – the Assam Repealing Act, 2020.

In 2020, the Assam government had said that it would disband all state-run madrassas and Sanskrit tols (schools) to “secularise education”. But critics say that a reading of the fine print of the government’s decision suggests it is not quite retreating from religious education. On the contrary, its action appeared to be targeted against the madrassas, which are often vilified as centres of Islamic indoctrination.

The Act takes away property and the statutory recognition of madrassa education, the petitioners told the Supreme Court, Bar and Bench reported.

The petitioners told the Supreme Court that the madrassas own the land and buildings from which they are run and that they bear the expenses related to electricity and other utilities.

The also said that the Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation) Act, 1995, which was revoked by the Assam Repealing Act, 2020, stated that the state government would pay the salaries to the teaching and non-teaching staff of madrassas.

“It [the Act] amounts to an arbitrary exercise of both legislative and executive powers and amounts to a denial of the petitioner madrassas’ ability to continue as madrassas providing religious instruction coupled with religious education,” the petition stated.

On February 4, the petitioners had told the Gauhati High Court that the Assam Repealing Act violates their rights under Articles 25 (freedom of religion), 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs), 28 (freedom to take part in religious worship in certain educational institutions) and 30 (right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions).

The High Court had said that the petitioners’ claim that the government-funded madrassas are minority institutions was baseless. Since the teaching and non-teaching staff of these educational institutions are government servants, state madrassas cannot be said to be established or run by minority institutions, the High Court added.