Panel recommends ID cards, census to identify ‘Assamese Muslims’ as distinct group in Assam

A panel formed by the BJP-led government in Assam has recommended that a notification be passed to identify “Assamese Muslims” as a distinct group in the state.

The panel was formed after Assam chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma last July had met with representatives of the Assamese Muslim community from various fields to discuss the community’s socio-economic issues. Divided into seven sub-committees, the panel submitted the report on Thursday after months of discussion.

The other suggestions include issuing identity cards or certifications as well as conducting a census to “identify and document” the Assamese Muslim community.

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.

These groups consider themselves distinct from the Bengali-speaking Muslims who migrated from East Bengal or Bangladesh.

Accepting the report on Thursday, Sarma said that all the recommendations were “implementable”, but in a phase wise manner. “We can categorise them into short term, medium term and long term,” he said.

He also added that the committee has put forth a definition of Assamese Muslims in the report. “We have accepted the definition….now the target group will be clearer, and what work needs to be done for them,” he said, adding that the next stage will include “legislative mechanisms, administrative decisions and financial support” to these groups.

Apart from identity, the report also spoke of more political representation to the group. It called for a provision similar to the Article 333 of the Constitution to provide “representation of Assamese Muslims in Parliament and Assam Legislative Assembly.” “An Upper House (Legislative Council) may be created in Assam as per Article 169 of the Indian Constitution. Once the Legislative Council is formed, specific number of seats may be reserved for Assamese Muslim community in this Council” a release by the government said.

The report also made suggestions on matters related to education, political representation, health, skill development and women empowerment.

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