Indian court effectively bans Islamic schools in most populous state ahead of major election

Indian court effectively bans Islamic schools in most populous state ahead of major election

An Indian court has ordered a ban on Islamic schools in the country’s most populous state, asking for millions of students to be shifted to conventional schools, in a move singling out Muslims further ahead of national elections.

The Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh state scrapped a 2004 law governing madrasas in the state on Friday. The court said the law on Islamic schools violates constitutional secularism.

Judges Subhash Vidyarthi and Vivek Chaudhary said the state government will ensure that children between the ages of six to 14 years are not left without admission to duly recognised institutions.

The schools, part of Indian states with Muslim populations for decades, are centred around Islamic ways of schooling whereas other schools in India follow conventional education.

This move will dislodge 2.7 million students and around 10,000 teachers across 25,000 Islamic schools, said Iftikhar Ahmed Javed, head of the board of madrasa education in the state.

While the court did not give a timeline for its order, the madrasas are unlikely to be closed right away, he said.

Uttar Pradesh, an Indian state in the northeastern part, is home to one-fifth of the 240 million people who are Muslims.

Rakesh Tripathi, a spokesperson for Uttar Pradesh wing of Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which runs the state government, said it was not against madrasas and was concerned about the education of Muslim students.

"We are not against any madrasa but we are against discriminatory practices. We are against illegal funding, and the government will decide on further actions after going through the court’s order,” he said.

India experienced an average of almost two instances of anti-Muslim hate speech every day in 2023, according to new figures from a US-based research group.

A large majority of these incidents occurred in states governed by the Hindu right-wing nationalist BJP, according to a report published this week by the India Hate Lab (IHL), a research group based in Washington, DC.

The frequency of hate speech peaked from August to November last year – a period that coincided with political campaigning and voting phases in four key state elections.

India is heading for a general election starting next month, with Mr Modi seeking a rare third term in power.

However, Muslims and rights groups in the country have accused some BJP members and affiliates of promoting anti-Islamic hate speech and vigilantism, and demolishing Muslim-owned properties.