Controversies Surrounding Assam's Approach to Muslim Communities Ignite Debates

On December 8, the Assam government approved a survey to understand the social and economic conditions of the local Muslim population.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma

Guwahati- Assam, a state in northeastern India, finds itself entangled in a web of controversies surrounding its approach to Muslim communities. From the contentious recognition of specific Muslim groups as "indigenous" to the recent proposal of conducting a census to strengthen the Muslim community, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma's strategies have ignited debates and raised questions about political motivations.

The recent proposition to conduct a comprehensive census within the Muslim community has ignited divergent perspectives. This proposal follows the contentious recognition of Goria, Moria, Deshi, Jolah tea tribe, and Sayeed communities as "indigenous Assamese Muslims" in 2022.

The Mooknayak spoke to Anjuman Ara Begum, a Human Rights researcher and an Associate Professor in the Department of Law at Royal Global University in Guwahati. Anjuman raised questions regarding the state's recent steps, particularly in light of the lack of guidelines for scenarios like inter-community marriages.

She questioned, "What if a Goria marries a non-Goria? What about the children who are a product of such marriages? The government has not issued any set guidelines regarding it."

The Guwahati High Court recently acknowledged a statement from the Assam government, revealing that nearly 85% of cases brought to the foreigner’s tribunals concluded with individuals being recognized as Indians. Anjuman expressed concern about this high recognition rate and its potential consequences, stating, "If 85-90% of so-called foreigners are being found naturalized citizens, such an arbitrary census will, in the end, lead to more division."

She added, "The basis of this is exclusion and inequality. One would be made to think if this step is being taken keeping the upcoming elections in mind." Notably, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has made controversial statements against the Bengali Muslim community in the past, urging them not to vote for the BJP. In an October 2023 press interview, the CM remarked, "When elections come, I myself will request them not to vote for us. When you will follow family planning, stop child marriage, and shed fundamentalism, then you vote for us."

On December 8th, the Assam government approved a survey to understand the social and economic conditions of the local Muslim population. The survey will be conducted by the Directorate of Minority Affairs and Char Areas, according to information provided in a cabinet note. The government had previously announced plans for a special survey focusing on the state's five local Muslim groups in October. The goal is to gather information for their overall betterment, with the survey's results guiding decisions to enhance social, political, and educational aspects for these communities.

In reference to a Human Development Index report from 2016, the teacher emphasized, "According to the Human Development Index report released in 2016, the Muslim community in the state is the most economically backward group. There have to be active steps taken by the government regarding the group as a whole and not just a few communities who have been speaking Assamese."

Addressing the concept of "Indigenous People," the researcher critiqued its lack of clarity and definition. India rejected the term 'indigenous' at the UN, arguing that everyone in the country is indigenous, rendering the official use of such a term nonsensical. According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, India has laws and constitutional provisions recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples, but their implementation is unsatisfactory. India voted in favor of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, conditionally asserting that all Indians are indigenous, making the UNDRIP inapplicable to India.

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