Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang
Politics Minorities

Assam: Five sub-groups identified as Indigenous Assamese Muslims

While state claims this is done to enable better healthcare, education, financial inclusion etc., Bengali-speaking Muslims have not been designated indigenous, further alienating the community

Sabrangindia 08 Jul 2022

Indigenous Assamese MuslimsImage Courtesy: newindian.in

On Tuesday, July 5, the Assam Cabinet led by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma approved the inclusion of five sub-groups in a list of Indigenous Assamese Muslims in the state. The Cabinet has identified Goriya, Moriya, Jolha, Deshi, and Syed sub-groups of Assamese Muslims as Indigenous.

The official purpose, according to a statement by the Cabinet, is to “ensure their development in health, cultural identity, education, financial inclusion, skill development and women empowerment.” However, the move could further alienate Bengali-speaking Muslims who are often perceived to be “outsiders” or “illegal Bangladeshis” despite being born in the state.

CM Sarma announced the decision as part of a slew of SOPs for ex-servicemen and small businesses.

The Economic Times quoted Sarma as saying, “(Indigenous) Khilonjia Muslims have lived in Assam for 100 years. They are worried about losing their identity. That's why we declared them indigenous.”

Arithmetic of exclusion?

But if the state’s aim is minority welfare, then the numbers don’t quite add up. The total population of the five identified sub-groups comes to approximately 35 lakh people.

According to the 2011 Census, the Muslim population of Assam, stood at approximately 34 percent at that time. As the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented a census from taking place as scheduled in 2020-21, current official figures are unavailable, though the Muslim population is now estimated to be around 40 percent. If we go by Assam’s current estimated population of 3.29 crores, it means Assam’s Muslim population is around 1.3 crores. Therefore, nearly 1 crore Muslims, largely Bengali-speaking Muslims, in the state will be left out of the developmental schemes.

Readers would recall that in July 2021, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had held a meeting titled Alaap Alochana – Empowering Religious Minorities with 150 intellectuals and respected members of the Assamese Muslim community. Here several matters related to Assam’s Muslim community were discussed including the “two-child” policy to control the growth of Muslim population, and how to distinguish between “indigenous” Muslims and those who allegedly entered the state illegally from Bangladesh. It was decided at this meeting to form eight sub-committees to come up with a roadmap for addressing a variety of challenges faced by the community.

It was one of these committees that submitted a report on April 21 to the Chief Minister, in which it proposed a definition for “indigenous” Muslims.

Ethno-linguistic equations have always been complicated in Assam. The influx of Bengalis, both Hindu and Muslim, from Bangladesh has been viewed as a threat to the demography of the state. But the regime has over the years added a distinct communal hue to the conflict, with the Sarma himself openly declaring that he did not need votes from Miya Muslims (a term used to refer to Bengali-speaking Muslims) in the run up to State Assembly elections last year.

But all this belies historical facts such as:

·        Movement of people of different ethnicities and faiths was rather fluid across the entire eastern and north eastern region that comprises modern day West Bengal, Assam as well as Bangladesh and even Myanmar.

·        It was the British who brought Bengali speaking Hindus to Assam to assist with civil services, and Bengali speaking Muslims were brought to work as labourers in the fields

·        It was the partition of Bengal in 1905 by the British that sowed the seeds of communal discord, that was further fuelled by the partition of India in 1947

All this ethnolinguistic and communal discord has now been manipulated into another “Divide and Rule” strategy where one group of Muslims is being pit against another. What will we accomplish by following in the footsteps of manipulative colonisers who left behind a harvest of hate?

Timing of the announcement

This announcement also comes at a time when people of the flood-ravaged state are struggling for basic necessities like drinking water and safe shelter in many parts of the state.

Congress MLA Rakiul Hussain has not only questioned the definition of indigenous, but also told media persons, “This is an attempt to divert attention from the prolonged floods in the state.”

According to Azizur Rehman, who is presently a leader of the Raijor Dal and was previously an advisor to the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU), "This is a policy aimed at appeasement," and that it is a clear case of "divide and rule".

Prominent social Activist and writer Har Kumar Goswami told SabrangIndia, "This is just another method to create a cheap labour class in Assam, by barring a particular community i.e Bengali speaking Muslims from various schemes. While those identified as indigenous Muslims would get cards that entitle them to various benefits, the excluded Muslims would be exploited and forced to work at lower wages."

Meanwhile, according to former All Assam Bengali Youth Students Federation leader Chitya Paul, "The Himanta biswa Sarma government in Assam has deprived Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims of various entitlements, by not including them in the indigenous list, even though they have lived here over two hundred years, and even learnt Assamese."

Related:

Assam: Committee proposes selective census, IDs for Assamese Muslims
Is the Assam CM’s push for a “two-child policy” a tactic to exclude minorities?
Assam: New criteria for government jobs singling out minorities?
Ajmal’s culture is my enemy: Assam CM’s openly anti-Muslim statement
Don’t need Miya Muslim vote: Himanta Biswa Sarma

Assam: Five sub-groups identified as Indigenous Assamese Muslims

While state claims this is done to enable better healthcare, education, financial inclusion etc., Bengali-speaking Muslims have not been designated indigenous, further alienating the community

Indigenous Assamese MuslimsImage Courtesy: newindian.in

On Tuesday, July 5, the Assam Cabinet led by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma approved the inclusion of five sub-groups in a list of Indigenous Assamese Muslims in the state. The Cabinet has identified Goriya, Moriya, Jolha, Deshi, and Syed sub-groups of Assamese Muslims as Indigenous.

The official purpose, according to a statement by the Cabinet, is to “ensure their development in health, cultural identity, education, financial inclusion, skill development and women empowerment.” However, the move could further alienate Bengali-speaking Muslims who are often perceived to be “outsiders” or “illegal Bangladeshis” despite being born in the state.

CM Sarma announced the decision as part of a slew of SOPs for ex-servicemen and small businesses.

The Economic Times quoted Sarma as saying, “(Indigenous) Khilonjia Muslims have lived in Assam for 100 years. They are worried about losing their identity. That's why we declared them indigenous.”

Arithmetic of exclusion?

But if the state’s aim is minority welfare, then the numbers don’t quite add up. The total population of the five identified sub-groups comes to approximately 35 lakh people.

According to the 2011 Census, the Muslim population of Assam, stood at approximately 34 percent at that time. As the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented a census from taking place as scheduled in 2020-21, current official figures are unavailable, though the Muslim population is now estimated to be around 40 percent. If we go by Assam’s current estimated population of 3.29 crores, it means Assam’s Muslim population is around 1.3 crores. Therefore, nearly 1 crore Muslims, largely Bengali-speaking Muslims, in the state will be left out of the developmental schemes.

Readers would recall that in July 2021, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had held a meeting titled Alaap Alochana – Empowering Religious Minorities with 150 intellectuals and respected members of the Assamese Muslim community. Here several matters related to Assam’s Muslim community were discussed including the “two-child” policy to control the growth of Muslim population, and how to distinguish between “indigenous” Muslims and those who allegedly entered the state illegally from Bangladesh. It was decided at this meeting to form eight sub-committees to come up with a roadmap for addressing a variety of challenges faced by the community.

It was one of these committees that submitted a report on April 21 to the Chief Minister, in which it proposed a definition for “indigenous” Muslims.

Ethno-linguistic equations have always been complicated in Assam. The influx of Bengalis, both Hindu and Muslim, from Bangladesh has been viewed as a threat to the demography of the state. But the regime has over the years added a distinct communal hue to the conflict, with the Sarma himself openly declaring that he did not need votes from Miya Muslims (a term used to refer to Bengali-speaking Muslims) in the run up to State Assembly elections last year.

But all this belies historical facts such as:

·        Movement of people of different ethnicities and faiths was rather fluid across the entire eastern and north eastern region that comprises modern day West Bengal, Assam as well as Bangladesh and even Myanmar.

·        It was the British who brought Bengali speaking Hindus to Assam to assist with civil services, and Bengali speaking Muslims were brought to work as labourers in the fields

·        It was the partition of Bengal in 1905 by the British that sowed the seeds of communal discord, that was further fuelled by the partition of India in 1947

All this ethnolinguistic and communal discord has now been manipulated into another “Divide and Rule” strategy where one group of Muslims is being pit against another. What will we accomplish by following in the footsteps of manipulative colonisers who left behind a harvest of hate?

Timing of the announcement

This announcement also comes at a time when people of the flood-ravaged state are struggling for basic necessities like drinking water and safe shelter in many parts of the state.

Congress MLA Rakiul Hussain has not only questioned the definition of indigenous, but also told media persons, “This is an attempt to divert attention from the prolonged floods in the state.”

According to Azizur Rehman, who is presently a leader of the Raijor Dal and was previously an advisor to the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU), "This is a policy aimed at appeasement," and that it is a clear case of "divide and rule".

Prominent social Activist and writer Har Kumar Goswami told SabrangIndia, "This is just another method to create a cheap labour class in Assam, by barring a particular community i.e Bengali speaking Muslims from various schemes. While those identified as indigenous Muslims would get cards that entitle them to various benefits, the excluded Muslims would be exploited and forced to work at lower wages."

Meanwhile, according to former All Assam Bengali Youth Students Federation leader Chitya Paul, "The Himanta biswa Sarma government in Assam has deprived Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims of various entitlements, by not including them in the indigenous list, even though they have lived here over two hundred years, and even learnt Assamese."

Related:

Assam: Committee proposes selective census, IDs for Assamese Muslims
Is the Assam CM’s push for a “two-child policy” a tactic to exclude minorities?
Assam: New criteria for government jobs singling out minorities?
Ajmal’s culture is my enemy: Assam CM’s openly anti-Muslim statement
Don’t need Miya Muslim vote: Himanta Biswa Sarma

Related Articles

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Theme

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Campaigns

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

IN FACT

Analysis

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Archives