The Assam Cabinet Tuesday approved the identification of five Assamese Muslim sub-groups — Goriyas, Moriyas, Julhas, Deshis, and Syeds — as “indigenous” Assamese Muslim communities.
A note from the cabinet said that the move will “ensure their development in health, cultural identity, education, financial inclusion, skill development and women empowerment.”
Considered distinct from Bengali-speaking Muslims, who have a history of migration from present-day Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) to Assam over centuries, this group has often expressed the need for a separate identity.
The decision came following the recommendations of a panel constituted by the Assam government last year to discuss socio-economic issues concerning the Assamese Muslim community of the state.
The panel was set up in July last year after Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s meeting with Assamese Muslims from various fields — writers, doctors, cultural workers, lecturers, historians, and musicians, among others — to discuss socio-economic challenges faced by the community. The stated aim of Sarma’s outreach was the community’s welfare. In the meeting, he emphasised that the “uniqueness of the indigenous Assamese Muslims should be protected and preserved”.
Considered distinct from Bengali-speaking Muslims, who have a history of migration from present-day Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) to Assam over centuries, this group of Muslims has often expressed the need for a separate identity.
Under the umbrella of the indigenous Assamese Muslim community fall three main groups: the Goriyas, the Moriyas (from Upper Assam), and the Deshis (from Lower Assam). While the Deshis are 13th-century converts from indigenous communities such as Koch Rajbongshi and Mech, the Goriyas and Moriyas trace their lineage to converts as well as soldiers, artisans, etc. who came to the region during the Ahom rule. Smaller groups such as Julha Muslims also fall under this category.
The move first made news when the Assam Minorities Development Board had proposed a “census” for Assamese Muslims in February 2020. After a meeting with the community’s members, then state minorities minister Ranjit Dutta confirmed plans to hold the census based on the 2019 Budget that had provisions for a “Development Corporation for Indigenous Muslims” for “holistic development” of the community as well as a “socio-economic census”.
However, it did not take off. In July 2021, Sarma met with the community leaders, and they were divided into seven sub-committees. After months of discussion, their reports were submitted earlier in April this year. One of the recommendations said that a notification should be passed to identify “Assamese Muslims” as a distinct group in the state. The other suggestions include issuing identity cards or certifications as well as conducting a census to “identify and document” the Assamese Muslim community.
Back then, Sarma had accepted the report and said they were “implementable”, but in a phase-wise manner. “We can categorise them into short term, medium-term and long term,” he had said.