Assam Education and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday said the government will shut down all state-run madrasas and Sanskrit tols (schools) as it cannot allow teaching religious education with public money, reported IANS. The minister said the government will issue a formal notification in this regard in November.

Sarma said that the government had made the announcement on Tuesday in the Assembly, adding that there was nothing to say about privately-run madrasas and Sanskrit tols. After the religious institutions close down, 48 contractual teachers were likely to be shifted to schools under the education department.

On Tuesday, the government had made the announcement in the Assembly, during a discussion on budgetary allocation for the education department when some legislators were demanding provincialisation of madrasas, The Telegraph reported.

Sarma had said that the madrasas could not be provincialised as the state was adopting a modern education system. He then added that people can run the religious institutions their own if they want.

The minister also said the rules for provincialisation will change. “It will be more a need-based instead of date and year based,” Sarma told the Assembly. “For example, if there is no school within a 5 km radius of an area, we will fund a school there or where there is a need, like in the Sixth Schedule areas.”

Assam has 614 recognised madrasas – 57 for girls, three for boys and 554 co-educational – and 17 are Urdu medium. Similarly, there are about 1,000 recognised Sanskrit tols and nearly 100 are aided by government funds.

The move to shut down the institutions was met with criticism from All India United Democratic Front chief Badruddin Ajmal. He said that if the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government would close down the madrasas, his party would start them again after coming to power following next year’s Assembly elections.

The government had in February decided to shut down the religious institutions and convert them into high schools and higher secondary schools within five months, according to The Hindu. The decision, however, had faced sharp criticism from Hindu and Muslim organisations.

“The BJP-run government is trying to show its secular face by washing its hands off Sanskrit tols along with madrasas,” Aminul Islam, general secretary of All India United Democratic Front, had said. “Leave apart madrasas, we are not in favour of such treatment towards Sanskrit, the mother of most languages on earth.”

The All Assam Minority Students’ Union had said the decision was in line of the government’s agenda of “harassing Muslims and denying them basic rights” as guaranteed in the Constitution. “Madrasas don’t only teach Islamic scriptures and Arabic, they also teach subjects like any regular school,” it had said in a statement.

A group of monastic heads had also ciriticed the government’s move. “Sanskrit is part of our culture,” Janardhan Deva Goswami, the satradhikar of the Dakhinpat Satra in Majuli, had said. “We cannot accept this decision.”

Further, the BJP-led government had dissolved the Madrassa Education Board and Assam Sanskrit Board, the Deccan Herald reported. While the madrassas were brought under the Secondary Board of Education Assam, the tols became part of the Kumar Bhaskar Varma Sanskrit and Ancient Studies University. The government had said this was done to introduce modern education to the learners.