Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. (PTI)
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. (PTI)

Assam CM meets Muslim team on population control

On June 18, Sarma proposed formulation of a stringent population policy and gradual implementation of the two-child norm for availing government benefits in Assam. The chief minister on Tuesday said that the policy was the only way to eradicate poverty and illiteracy in the Muslim community in the state.
UPDATED ON JUL 05, 2021 01:45 AM IST

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday held a meeting with the representatives from the indigenous Muslim community and said that they agreed that there was a need to control “population explosion” in parts of the state to spur its growth.

On June 18, Sarma proposed formulation of a stringent population policy and gradual implementation of the two-child norm for availing government benefits in Assam. The chief minister on Tuesday said that the policy was the only way to eradicate poverty and illiteracy in the Muslim community in the state.

“Population explosion in some parts of Assam has posed a real threat for development, more particularly in the economic sense. If we have to become among the (top) five states in the country, we have to manage our population explosion. That has been agreed to today,” Sarma said after Sunday’s meeting.

Sarma said that during the meeting, the 150 representatives also put forth the problems faced by the Assamese Muslim community

“We discussed various issues confronting the religious minorities of Assam, more particularly the indigenous Assamese Muslim community,” the CM said after the meeting.

“They have a distinct identity and rich cultural tradition and heritage. The meeting emphasised that the uniqueness of indigenous Assamese Muslims should be protected and preserved,” he added.

Unlike Bengali Muslims who migrated from the pre-Partition East Bengal and later Bangladesh and settled in Assam, the indigenous Assamese Muslims use Assamese as their mother tongue and follow cultural traditions and festivities similar to Assamese Hindus which clearly differentiate them from the migrants.

Indigenous Muslims are divided into three distinct groups called Goria, Moria and Deshi and have some smaller groups like Moimal, Julha, Ujani etc. According to the 2011 Census, there are over 10.67 million Muslims in Assam. Indigenous Assamese Muslim groups claim that they comprise around 4 million of that figure. Groups representing this section have been seeking a separate census to find out their exact numbers and want separate measures for protection of the community, which is distinct from the Bengali Muslims.

Since coming to power in May, Assam’s new CM has been urging the migrant Muslim community (Bengali Muslims) ‘decent family planning norms’ to reduce poverty and control social problems in the state.

To achieve that, he said, eight sub-groups focusing on health, education, population stabilisation, cultural identity, financial inclusion, women empowerment, skill development, etc, would be constituted.

“A whole range of issues will be discussed in the sub-groups, and after three months we will prepare a roadmap for the next five years,” Sarma said.

Lawyer Nekibur Zaman who was part of Sunday’s deliberations said they were confident that the government will address their concerns.

“There was no such initiative taken by any CM or government in the past to address the problems of our community. Indigenous Assamese Muslims are a microscopic minority. Though there are over 4 million of us, we don’t have any representative from the community in the state assembly as we are scattered all over the state. In contrast, Bengali Muslims are concentrated as several pockets and are able to elect 20-25 representatives to the assembly. Because of our marginalisation, we are also deprived of the benefits of most government schemes directed towards the minorities,” said prominent lawyer Nekibur Zaman who was part of Sunday’s deliberations.

Representatives of political parties and student organisations from minority communities were not included in Sunday’s meeting. The CM informed that another meeting will be held in the coming days with politicians, students and social organisations representing minority communities.

“Today’s discussion was with the representatives of the indigenous Muslim community. In the next few days, we will have a similar meeting with the representatives of the Muslim community that has its origins in (the erstwhile) East Bengal. There’s a cultural difference between both these Muslim communities of Assam and we respect their distinct identities,” said Sarma.

“We are going to conduct a series of meetings on population management. The next meeting will be held with the migrant Muslim community. Such meetings will continue for the next three months,” he added.

In 2017, the Assam assembly had passed a ‘population and women empowerment’ policy which prevented people having more than two children from securing government jobs. It also prevented such people from contesting panchayat and municipal elections. The policy is yet to be implemented.

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