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Why Assam needs a census of indigenous Muslim groups?

Identifying Indigenous Muslim Population in Assam

Approx Read Time: 6 minutes 

In News:

  • Assam’s Welfare of Minorities and Development Department has given its nod to hold a census of four communities broadly known as “Assamese Muslims” comprising the Goriya, Moriya, Deshi and Julha communities of the Brahmaputra Valley.

News Summary:

  • Assam will conduct an exercise to identify the State’s indigenous Muslim population and segregate them from illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
  • The survey will be conducted to identify people of four communities-Goria, Moria, Desi and Jolah of the tea tribes, considered as indigenous.
  • The Goria, Moria, Desi and tea-tribe Jolha communities are already classified as MOBC (More Other Backward Classes).
  • These Muslims trace their ancestry to ethnic groups that converted to Islam between the 13th and 17th centuries.
  • Their combined population is around 40 lakh.
  • The Bengali-speaking Maimal Muslim community spread across the Barak Valley of south Assam won’t be included in this census.

About: The Assamese Muslims

  • The Gorias:
    1. The Gorias worked for 13th century Ahom kings.
    2. Many came with Muslim armies and were captured in warfare.
    3. When they were released, they mingled with the mainstream society.
    4. Some historians say that Goriyas are those hailing from Gaur, the ancient “Mahammadan capital” of Bengal.
  • The Moria:
    1. The Morias also worked for Ahom Kings and came around the 1500s.
    2. They were exceptionally good with crafts — especially bell metal.
  • The Deshi:
    1. The Desis were originally Koch-Rajbongshis who converted to Islam.
    2. The Deshis speak the Deshi language, which is very similar to the Koch Rajbongshi language, and are approximately 20 lakh in population.
  • The Jolha:
    • Julha Muslims were “up-country” people (from Bihar and UP) who came to Assam along with the railway expansion during British rule.
    • They were of various professions: tent-makers, rope-makers, weavers, machine drillers.
    • However, the census will look only at those Julhas “who belong to the tea tribes and primarily reside in Golaghat and Jorhat”.
    • The tea-tribe Jolhas are people brought by the British from the Chotta Nagpur Plateau to work in the tea estates of Assam
NOTE: While Goriyas, Moriyas and Julhas trace their roots to upper and middle Assam, the Deshis hail from lower Assam.

Why Assam needs a census of indigenous Muslim groups?

  • The indigenous Muslims are deprived of benefits of the government welfare schemes in absence of proper identification.
  • The census will help the indigenous Assamese Muslims benefit not just from Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord but other schemes too. This would aid setting up of a ‘Goriya, Moriya, Deshi and Julha Development Corporation’.
NOTE: Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord provides for “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.

Census Trends in Assam:

  • According to Census of India, the Assamese-speaking population fell from 57.81% in 1991 to 48.38% in 2011, while the Bengali-speaking population rose from 21.67% to 28.91% in the same period.
  • Simultaneously, the Hindu population declined from 67.14% to 61.47%, while the Muslim share grew from 28.44% to 34.22%.
  • These trends are sometimes considered as a sign of continuing migration. However, there are other factors that needs to be considered:
    1. The Muslim population includes Bengali-origin Muslims whose families were already living in Assam before the 1971 cutoff date for legal migration as stipulated in the 1985 Assam Accord.
    2. The Muslim population has grown significantly in districts with a predominant Bengali-origin Muslim population which could be because of higher fertility rate among Bengali-origin Muslims, which would include families who were already living in Assam before 1971.
    3. Post-1971 migration has largely driven the growth of the Muslim population, which some see as too rapid to be explained by natural factors.
    4. The migrant population includes both Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims.

‘Ethnic tribe’ tag likely for local Assam Muslims:

  • The Assam Minorities Development Board has also said that Assamese-speaking Muslims could be officially classified as an “ethnic tribe” instead of the loosely used nomenclature “indigenous Muslims” to distinguish them from “immigrant” Muslims.
  • The minorities welfare department proposed replacing the term ‘indigenous’ with ‘ethnic tribe’ for Assamese-speaking Muslims because there is no official definition yet of ‘indigenous Assamese’.
  • Criteria for recognition of Assamese-speaking Muslim community: As an “ethnic tribe”, its members should not have any history of migration from the erstwhile East Pakistan.
  • The change in the nomenclature will be notified once the proposal receives chief minister’s nod. This will be done before the start of the socio-economic census.
Identifying Indigenous Muslim Population in Assam
Identifying Indigenous Muslim Population in Assam

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