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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

GS-II :
  • 11 February, 2020

  • 3 Min Read

Indigenous Muslims of Assam

Syllabus subtopic: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the move and its significance; arguements for and against the move; about indigenous Assamese muslims and their concerns

News: Assam is planning to implement a census to identify Assam’s ‘khilonjiya’, or indigenous Muslim population in 2020.

Background

  • The Assam Budget 2019-2020 (announced in February 2019) listed the creation of a ‘Development Corporation for Indigenous Muslims’ aimed at the ‘holistic development’ of the community as well as a “socio-economic census” to help assess their “socio-economic condition”.

  • On February 6, 2020, a memo was issued by the Welfare of Minorities and Development Department calling for a meeting regarding a socio-economic census of indigenous Muslims of Assam — Goria, Moria, Ujani, Deshi, Jola, Mainal, Syed etc.

  • However, the state govt. said the planned census is not a socio-economic one but simply to count the population of the indigenous Muslims of Assam.

About the Assamese Muslim community

  • Under the umbrella of the indigenous Assamese Muslim community fall three main groups: the Goriyas, the Moriyas (from Upper Assam) and the Deshis (from Lower Assam).

  • While the Deshis are 13th century converts from indigenous communities such as Koch Rajbongshi and Mech, the Goriyas and Moriyas trace their lineage to converts as well as soldiers, karigars etc who came to the region during the Ahom rule. Smaller groups such as Julha Muslims also fall under this category.

  • These groups consider themselves distinct from the Bengali-speaking Muslims who migrated from East Bengal or Bangladesh.

Arguements in favour of conducting a census

  • Many indigenous Muslims have been wrongfully tagged D-voter or Doubtful-voter in Assam. They face a major identity crisis since they are confused with Bangladeshis.

  • According to Census 2011, Muslims constitute 34.22 per cent of the 3.12 crore population of Assam. Around 12 per cent of that is indigenous Muslim. Because of migration from Bangladesh, this group has lost its identity and are lagging behind in terms of social and political development.

  • There are government schemes for indigenous communities in Assam like the Bodos, Koch Rajbongshis, Sooteas, Ahoms. Just like those are indigenous groups, so are Goriyas and Moriyas. Since Muslims world over have similar-sounding names, it is important to identify indigenous Assamese Muslims through a census, so that they can benefit from the various developmental schemes in Assam.

  • This includes Clause 6 of the Assam Accord which grants “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards” to the “Assamese people”. The report on its implementation is set to be submitted by the Centre-appointed high-powered committee soon. The census will help the indigenous Assamese Muslims benefit not just from Clause 6 but other schemes too.

  • The census will “most probably” be carried out by the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, and will cover the entire state. The community has no benefits, no MLAs, no political representation. The rationale behind this is to help in the development of their identity, their culture, their literature.

Arguements against conducting a census

  • Some fear such a census will “further marginalise” the descendants of Bengali-speaking migrants in Assam. The survey identifies one section of Muslims so that they can get certain benefits but ignores another section completely. The polarisation and divisions will automatically increase as a result of this.

  • Also, how does one define an indigenous Assamese Muslim? Certain East Bengali-origin migrants have been living in Assam since the 1800s. Are they any less indigenous Assamese than other groups? If the government wants to really improve conditions of Muslims, why not do a survey/census of all economically deprived Muslims?

Source: Indian Express


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