Indian court ruling effectively outlaws Islamic schools in the country' s most populous state

(Copyright by World Economic Forum / Valeriano Di Domenico)Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India during the Opening of the Annual Meeting 2018 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2018.

A court in India has effectively banned Islamic schools in the country's most populous state, a move that could further distance many Muslims from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist government ahead of national elections.

The March 22 ruling scraps a 2004 law governing madrasas, or schools, in Uttar Pradesh, saying it breaches India's constitutional secularism and ordering that students be moved to conventional schools, Reuters news agency reported.

The court struck down the law governing madrasas, weeks before a nationwide election in the world's largest democracy.

The Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh declared the Madrasa Act of 2004 unconstitutional, according to CNN, and ordered 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"

The court said it cannot provide for the education of a particular religion, its instructions, prescriptions, and philosophies or create separate education systems for separate religions.

Of India's nearly 1.4 billion people Hindu's account for almost 80 percent, Muslims 14.2 percent, Christians 2.3 percent and Sikhs 1.7 percent, according to the CIA Factbook.

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.

Uttar Pradesh has a population of some 200 million people, about 20 percent of whom are Muslim, according to India's most recent census data from 2011.

The state is governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has made headlines over the past decade for passing some of the country's most controversial laws.

Critics say the state's laws discriminate against Muslims and marginalize them in India, which is a secular republic.

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