Guwahati: The Assam cabinet has designated five Assamese-speaking Muslim communities – Goriya, Moriya, Deshi, Julah, and Syed – as “patriots”, a move that has been criticized as The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) attempts to emphasize their “Assamese” identity and separate them from the large Bengali-speaking “immigrant” population.
Chief Executive Officer Himanta Biswa Sarma announced the decision in a tweet on Tuesday and said that this will ensure the improvement of health, cultural recognition, education, economic inclusion, skill development, and empowerment of women in these groups.
Our week #AssamCabinetWe have taken several decisions on the smartness of old cars, the recognition of 5 basic Muslim groups, the exemption of ex-employees and their wives from paying property tax, the promotion of renewable energy, the improvement of access to data, etc. pic.twitter.com/3a56XLQfd7
– Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) July 5, 2022
According to the 2011 census, 34.22 percent of Assam’s population of 3.12 crore were Muslims.
Azizul Rahman, vice president of a social organization that claims to represent some of these groups, the All Assam Goriya-Moriya-Deshi Jatiya Parishad, told ThePrint that Assamese Muslim communities number “40 lakh”. [projected] 1.35 lakh Muslims” in the state.
Just before the assembly elections in Assam last year, Sarma – then the minister of health, education, and finance – said that the BJP did not need the votes of the Muslim community of “Bengali-origin”, known as “Miyas”.
“These Miya people are very communal and basic people and they are involved in many activities to distort the Assamese culture and the Assamese language,” he said.
In July last yearAssam government contains Sub-committees to draw up an action plan for “strengthening the indigenous Muslim population in the region”, which the minister said will be implemented over a period of five years.
In May this yearThe minister quoted a report he had written a The sub-committee to say that the indigenous Muslim population does not want to “merge” with the Muslim immigrants in the region.
Discussing the partisan aspects of the decision, Sushanta Talukdar, editor NEZINE – an online magazine focusing on northeast India – told ThePrint, “The Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have a strong support base among the indigenous East Bengal Muslims. Among Assamese Muslims, there are certain groups who want this distinction, so the BJP is using this as an opportunity.”
Some of the opposition parties claimed that this move will cause conflict among Muslims.
“BJP has been talking about religion and caste for many days; Now they want to divide among Muslims,” Aminul Islam, MP from AIUDF’s Badruddin Ajmal Union – the third largest political party in the state after Congress and BJP – told ThePrint.
He added that BJP was trying to attract the five Muslim groups, he said. “There is no established definition of ‘indigenous’ in Assam, or indeed in India.”
However, Assam BJP president Bhabesh Kalita dismissed the criticism and said, “It is the Congress which is thinking from the perspective of vote bank,” he said. “She [the five Muslim groups] need a boost. Infiltration is common in Assam; We need to protect the indigenous Muslims.”
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‘Remove identity as indigenous people’
Rahman said that all the five Muslim communities – Goriya, Moriya, Deshi, Syed, and Julha – demanded a separate census after facing harassment in the past.
“Sometimes in our community, Goriya, Moriya, Deshi, Syed, and Julha are wrongly pronounced as foreigners. So there are many obstacles…but we are original people,” he said.
The communities, he said, live in small villages all over Assam politically.
“So, our demand was a separate census and a separate identity as indigenous people,” he said.
Akhil Ranjan Dutta, head of the political science department at Gauhati University, said that Assamese Muslims are a much smaller community than the Muslims of East Bengal.
“So the tendency is that they don’t want to be in opposition to any government that is in power.”
“It was like the time of Congress [and it’s] it is not because of the differences between the communities,” he said, but he admitted that there are significant differences between Assamese and Bengali Muslims.
“Indigenous Muslims or Assamese Muslims belong to the aristocratic class, if you look at the upper Assamese Muslims, they are educated, wealthy people,” Dutta said, “Bengali Muslims are mostly poor farmers, consisting of [the state’s] immigration and employment status.”
The anti-immigrant discourse in Assam, which has its roots in the Assam Movement – an against immigration Regional movement from 1979-85 – mainly targeting Bengali speakers.
According to Talukdar, the Assamese national identity was originally a linguistic identity, but the BJP is now trying to add a religious dimension to this.
“They are creating different camps, so there are Hindus vs Muslims, Assamese and non-Assamese. But this can also cause concern among Bengali Hindus, where the BJP has a support base,” he said.
“The grand plan,” he added, “is to say that Bengali Muslims are a threat to Assamese identity.”
Rejaul Karim Sarkar, president of the Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU), declined to comment, saying the union would take a decision at a meeting in Guwahati on Thursday.
Like AIUDF, AAMSU strongly opposed the government’s decision to designate these groups as indigenous.
(This copy has been updated to reflect Proper naming of Azizul Rahman)
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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