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Online ‘census’ for Assamese Muslims launched by indigenous associations

The census is “modelled on the lines of the National Register of Citizens (NRC)” and aimed at "distinguishing Assamese Muslims from Bengali-speaking migrant Muslims."

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: April 16, 2021 2:37:08 pm
assam muslims census, assam indigenous muslims, assam muslim population, Janagosthiya Samannay Parishad, assam news, national register of citizens, NRC, indian expressAccording to the government's Census 2011, Muslims constitute 34.22 per cent of the 3.12-crore population of Assam. (Picture for representation)

The Janagosthiya Samannay Parishad (JSPA), an umbrella body of more than 30 “indigenous” organisations in Assam, Thursday launched a website to conduct what they are calling a “census” of Assamese Muslims in the state, in order to distinguish them from Bengali-speaking migrant Muslims.

Syed Muminul Aowal, Chief Convener, JSPA, and Assam Minorities Development Board chairman, said that the census is “modelled on the lines of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).”

“The Assamese Muslims have the same names as Bengali Muslims and are often clubbed with them,” said Aowal, “That is why they have faced a lot of problems. This register is so that one can differentiate them from Bengali-speaking migrant Muslims.”

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.

Aowal said that the idea of the census was first proposed in February 2020, when members of the indigenous Assamese Muslim community met with Assam’s Welfare of Minorities Minister Ranjit Dutta, who later confirmed the plans to hold the census. He added that the current census was being undertaken by JSPA and that the “government was not concerned with it.”

The census website, launched on April 15. “The system will be like that of the NRC. Applicants will have to submit their documents, the most important among them is a certificate saying which community they belong to — Goriya, Moriya or Deshi,” Aowal said. The others include voter card/ Aadhaar card, PAN Card, and Gaon Bura (village head) certificate. “They will be then given an Application Receipt Number (ARN),” he added.

The certificates will be given by one of the 18 indigenous Muslim organisations empaneled with JSPA. “These organisations have committees at the village level, and will be able to identify if the family is Goriya, Moriya, Deshi…so on.”

While technically, the exercise does not have a cut-off date, the census will include only Goriya, Moriya and Deshi communities, which date back to the pre-1826 period, or the period before the British annexed Assam. The jhulas, who are converted tea garden workers, came later. “Therefore, we will include them in the census at a later stage,” he said.

The Assam NRC, which was published in August 2019, excluded 19.06 lakh of 3.3 crore applicants and was based on the cut-off date of March 24, 1971, as per the Assam Accord of 1985.

Aowal added that the process would take at least a year to complete. He said that a sum of Rs 100 crore was announced for the development of khilonjiya (indigenous) Muslim in the 2019-2020 state budget. “But it was getting difficult to identify who was khilonjiya, since we could not really define them. The census will help in that regard,” he said.

According to the government’s Census 2011, Muslims constitute 34.22 per cent of the 3.12-crore population of Assam.

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