Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 23, 12 February 2020

India’s Northeast: Assam to enumerate “indigenous” Muslim population in new census
Vaishali Handique

In the news

The Government of Assam is highly perplexed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) drive. It is likely to survey to distinguish the indigenous Muslim population of the state. A meeting was called on 11 February 2020 by the State Minister Ranjit Kumar Dutta to finalize the proceedings of the survey. The socio-economic census will be a door to door one. It will enumerate the actual numbers of the religious community who is indigenous to the state, namely- Goria, Moria, Deshi and Jola. The government offices responsible for carrying out the survey will be the home, revenue and minorities welfare departments under the Government of Assam.

Issues at large

First, the total Muslim population of the state is at 34 per cent of the 3.1 crores state population out of which only four per cent are indigenous Assamese Muslims. The majority of the Muslims are Bengali-speaking and are immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. The last year’s uproar against the Citizenship Amendment Bill turned Act saw even the indigenous Muslim people fight against the possible awarding of citizenship to the minority Hindu populations of some selected countries. They asserted that Assam’s fight against CAA is not at all related to religion but is about the loss of opportunities of the indigenous people. 

Along with the rest of Assam, the indigenous Muslims too protested against the porous nature of the border of India and Bangladesh. They claim that the inclusion of any excess population, be it Hindu or Muslim, will create hindrance to the development of Assam’s own people and in turn create more agitations in the future.

Second, the BJP-led state government has called out the previous government for not being able to secure the livelihood and identity of the indigenous Muslims of the state. They claim that during the previous regime, many Bangladeshi Muslims have changed their names to access government services. This saw more Bangladeshi Muslims in the mainstream sectors and almost ceased the chances of the indigenous Muslim population who unfortunately fall under the “General” category of the reservation system as an addition to their woes.

In perspective

First, many believe that in 13 districts of Assam, today has a strong presence of the Bangladeshi Muslims. The Assam State Assembly has 14 Congress MLAs who are of Bangladeshi origin. This creates an unfair situation for the indigenous Muslims as they lack representation and hence their voices are almost unheard for a long time. 

Second, though the census will try to segregate the indigenous Muslim population, it will drop the word “indigenous.” It can be too sensitive. It will use “Goria, Moria, Deshi and Jolah Tribe Community Development Council” instead to reinforce the development agenda to be implemented for the concerned population and will not in any way fuel a communal uproar.

Third, it would be a good step, if successful, which will uplift the minority “indigenous” Muslims who have suffered greatly because of their awful categorization in the reservation system. All the Muslims in Assam are clubbed into the “general” category which provides them with no reservation benefits despite some of them living in extremely poor conditions.

Fourth, along with the census, it should also be tried, by the State Government, to further categorize them according to their economic condition or at least give some relief to the poor Muslims in the education and employment sectors.

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