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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > India: Assam: What the ‘Voluntary’ Demolition of a Madrasa Says About (...)

India: Assam: What the ‘Voluntary’ Demolition of a Madrasa Says About Persecution of Muslims

Friday 23 September 2022, by siawi3


Assam: What the ‘Voluntary’ Demolition of a Madrasa Says About Persecution of Muslims

For Muslims to ’prove’ their loyalty to the state, they have to find ’outsiders’ from among themselves and hand them over to the state.

Apoorvanand and Suraj Gogoi

September 8, 2022

Persecution of Muslims has surpassed all possible levels in Assam under the leadership of Himanta Biswa Sarma. The news of Muslims themselves demolishing a madrasa in Goalpara is the latest instance of it.

This time neither the police nor the local administration had to think of a “rational” excuse to justify the demolition (like the structure being fragile and unsafe, etc.) as they had to do in the previous three cases. The police said that “the locals voluntarily demolished the madrasa and the residence adjacent to it in a mark of strong resentment towards ‘Jihadi’ activities.”

It was headlined by the media as the first voluntary demolition of a madrasa, which contained the expectation that it would be a beginning, and Muslims in other parts of Assam, when prodded, would themselves commit such acts to prove that they are neither ‘Jihadis’ nor supporters of ‘jihad’. It will also save money and effort which the state has to invest while carrying out such demolitions. After this, the Muslims will be asked to be good enough to identify the ‘Jihadis’ hiding in the community as ‘sleeper cells’ and hand them over to the police.

In fact, it has been done already. Sarma has asked Muslims of the state to inform the police if some outsider Imam comes to their area. All ‘outsider’ Muslims are thus suspects and it is the duty of the Muslim community to keep itself free from them.

Before this, in a span of a month or so, three madrassas were demolished by the Assam administration in various districts of the state. One of the reasons stated for the destruction of the Markazul Ma-Arif Quariana Madrassa in the Bongaigaon district of Assam is that it is not equipped for disasters. Of course, the state administration is worried about the safety of the Muslims in Assam!

But these were clearly excuses to hoodwink the courts. The Assam chief minister made it explicit when he said that such demolitions would continue till such institutions are used for “anti-national” activities. He said, “Our sole intention is to see that they are not used by ‘jihadi’ elements. If a madrasa is not being used for ‘jihadi’ activities, there is no question of demolishing them.”

‘Jihadi’ activities are hard to define legally but the term has a great purchase in the minds of the constituents of the Bharatiya Janata Party. ‘Jihadi’ is one of the tropes used by the state administration to vilify Muslims in Assam, which are multiple, of which let us think about three.

They are first framed as terrorists – ‘jihadi’ to be precise and not any kind of other terrorist. Secondly, they are seen as illegal encroachers and migrants who plague the lands of Assam and turn the “indigenous” Assamese into landless peasants. Last but not the least, even if they don’t tick the above two boxes, they are seen as disloyal and a danger to the Assamese culture, where their fidelity to the Assamese community is often questioned.

The figure of the ‘jihadi’ appeals to the popular sentiment of how a Muslim body is thought of, something the current state government have time and again used to weaponise hatred towards Muslims in Assam. Not too long ago, with the Assam Repealing Act, 2020, government funding for madrasa education was wiped off. This Act violates many constitutional safeguards (Article 26, Article 29, Article 30, Article 330A and Article 330B) particularly designed for minorities in India. This Act is a proof of institutional demolition of madrasas in Assam. It is hardly surprising that this government doesn’t shy away from acting, particularly when it comes to purging even the basic rights of minorities in the state.

One would also recall, the Assam Cattle Protection Act, 2021 which regulates the slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle in the state. Supporting the Act, the Assam chief minister noted that the responsibility of maintaining communal harmony is also on the Muslim and this Act will add to strengthening harmony, he added. Now, it must be stated that this Act also prohibits slaughter within a five-kilometre radius of a temple, satra, and any other institution that authorities prescribe.

It literally empowers the state to deprive Muslims of any area from cattle slaughter and also meat-eating. We know that you can build a temple anywhere, even in areas where Muslims live. The pleasure that you derive when you change the food habits of a community is of a different class. This is what Sarma is giving to his Hindu constituents.

When Congress MLA Sherman Ali suggested the idea of a museum of the Miya community, he was threatened publicly by many, including Sarma. The chief minister had said, “Sherman Ali Ahmed will be sent to jail after the elections. He will be sent to jail for saying lungis should be kept at Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra.” Such is the nature of political emotions when it comes to Muslims in Assam.

More acts of violent evictions

It is clear that there is a wholesome attack on Muslims from all walks of their life. The way regular evictions are carried out shows the multiple ways in which they are targeted. Moinul Haque was brutalised while being killed last year in one such drive. The chief minister justified it as an “act of revenge” for an imaginary atrocity on Hindu Axomiyas.

Such acts of violent evictions have only gained more frequency. They don’t attract headlines anymore. To add insult to injury, it is claimed that Muslims own properties in more than one place. Why else do they silently accept eviction and move away from the site they are evicted from? The state government announces that it makes available the land freed from outsiders for the development of the state. People understand what it means.

One of the major contention within the eviction drive is about the encroachment of satra land which belongs to the different Vaishnavite institutions of the state. It is a well-known fact that Vaishnavite institutions and the Assam government have always been historic friends, and the “Bangladeshi” is a common enemy in this friendship. Prominent gifts have been exchanged in the past and those still yield strong ties that never stop vilifying the Muslims in the state.

Demolishing madrasas is the latest means of targeting Muslims. We know that madrasas provide roofs and food to poor Muslims. By attacking them, the Assam chief minister is inviting other Muslims to disown them. But somewhere in their hearts, they know that it is about the figure of the Muslim. All Muslims, if they look outwardly religious, are potential ‘jihadis’.

Now, even their private spaces are increasingly violated. But for them to prove loyal to the state and their true belonging to it, they have to find outsiders from among themselves and hand them over to the state. By creating a category of indigenous Muslims, Sarma has shown the way by destroying the common grounds, ethos and fabric of society.

The legitimisation of such distinctions started with the process of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which was started mainly to create outsiders officially. Now it continues in a more novel way: ‘criminals’ who can be shot and killed, ‘outsiders’ to be identified and isolated, ‘jihadis’ to be neutralised. Now, the onus is on Muslims. If they protest what is being done to them for their own sake, they prove that they are disloyal, unfaithful and ungrateful for not thanking the state which is doing all this for their good. They are being asked to accept a slave status. There is barely any sign of indignation from the majority community.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University. Suraj Gogoi is an assistant professor at the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at RV University, Bengaluru.