A meeting of representatives of indigenous Muslims of Assam with chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday was unanimous in its view that population explosion was a major concern and posed a threat to the development of the state.
The meeting convened by Sarma discussed a wide range of issues concerning the community but the focus was on population explosion in some areas of the state. “We agreed that the burgeoning population is a threat to development of the state, particularly in the economic sphere, and that if the state has to find a position among the top five of the country, then this problem has to be resolved,” he told the media after the meeting.
The meeting was the first in a series that the chief minister plans to hold in the next few months. “The first meeting was with the indigenous Muslim community because they are different from the immigrants. We will meet with representatives of immigrant Muslims in the next couple of days,” he said adding there will in fact be a series of meetings on population management in the next two-three months.
He said today’s meeting decided to constitute eight sub-groups covering subjects like population stabilisation, education, health, women empowerment, skill development and financial inclusion. “These groups will prepare their reports and submit in three months after which a roadmap will be prepared for the next five years,” he said.
Sarma had earlier asked a section of Muslims to adopt “decent family planning norms” to eradicate various ills like poverty and illiteracy among them. He had also said that the government would introduce population norms to determine beneficiaries of government schemes. In 2019, the cabinet had approved a two-child norm which bars anyone with more from government jobs. The Assam Panchayat (Amendment) Act, 2018 also bars those with more than two children from contesting the panchayat polls.
Muslims constitute 34.2 per cent of Assam’s population of 3.12 crore, according to the 2011 Census. In 2001, Muslims comprised 30.9 per cent of the 2.67 crore population whereas in 1991, it was 28.4 per cent of the 2.24 crore population. Over the two decades of 1990s and 2000s, the compounded annual growth rate of the Muslim population has dropped from 1.77 per cent during 1991-2001 to 1.57 per cent during 2001-2011.
The indigenous Muslim population is estimated at around 40 lakh and comprises three streams-- Goriya, Moriya and Deshi.The Goriyas are those who converted from various indigenous groups and tribes, Moriyas’ ancestors were brought by the Ahom kings as artisans while the Deshis are converts exclusively from the Koch-Rajbongshi community.
They are as different from the immigrant Bengali-speaking Muslims-- of erstwhile East Pakistan stock -- as chalk and cheese with respect to culture and language and also populate different areas of the state. Yet, the question of who is an indigenous Muslim is yet to be comprehensively settled