Muslim group pledges help
The All Assam Goria Moria Desi Jatiya Parishad on Friday announced its support to the state government in identifying “ethnic” Muslims but most community members felt that the exercise should have been extended to the entire state.
Dispur had recently announced to run a socio-economic census of at least four “ethnic” Muslim groups of Assam — Goria, Moria, Desi and the Jollah of the tea tribe — in the Brahmaputra Valley and the formation of a development corporation. A decision on conducting the census in the Barak Valley is yet to be finalised. The Parishad has been demanding a census of the “ethnic” Muslim population in the state for the past two decades.
With the state government yet to finalise the modalities for the proposed census, there is confusion over how to identify the “ethnic” Muslims of these four groups. Though there were reports that local mosque committees might help, the Parishad said, according to a previous survey conducted by it, around 36 lakh people belonging to these four communities are living in the state.
Parishad central publicity secretary Shahid Ali Ahmed told The Telegraph, “The Parishad has been pressing for the rights of the ethnic Muslim population since 2006. A survey done by the Parishad over the years found that there might be around 22 lakh of Goria, eight lakh of Desi, five lakh of Moria and some 90,000 Jolha of the tea tribe.”
Most native Muslims trace their ancestry to the 15th century, but don’t have any legacy documents stretching that far.
A census of the ethnic Muslim population was promised by the state government in its previous poll manifestoes and, accordingly, last year’s budget provided Rs 100 crore for a development corporation for ethnic Muslims for their “holistic development” and socio-economic census. The state government has already released Rs 2 crore for starting the process.
Ahmed said while there is confusion over identifying ethnic Muslims because of similarity in surnames, the task would not be very difficult because they belong to the original ethnic communities of Assam who have merely converted their religion over time but live with other indigenous communities of the state and follow a similar lifestyle to this day. “Only the religion of these people has changed, not the lifestyle,” he said.
These groups, because of their small and scattered population, have allegedly been deprived of political representation as well.
Gauhati High Court senior lawyer Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury, said, “It’s a welcome but half-baked step. Why has the government only chosen these four Muslim communities for the census? Why not Pangals, Maimals, Kirans and Cachari Muslims of the Barak Valley? They are backward too. The government must see that no step of its should create division among the people.”
The government’s plan for the Muslims living in Barak Valley in south Assam is still unclear. This region includes a part of what was Sylhet district in undivided Bengal (now in Bangladesh). The Assam Minorities Development Board said discussion on these sections of Muslims was still “pending”.
Sources said once the census is notified, Assamese-speaking Muslims wanting to be enumerated would be required to apply online. These applications would be verified by officials of the revenue department.