Guwahati: In what may trigger a fresh controversy in Assam, the BJP-led government in the state has decided to conduct a socioeconomic census from March this year to identify and segregate indigenous Muslims from those that migrated from erstwhile East Bengal, East Pakistan or present-day Bangladesh.
The Assam Minorities Development Board chairman Muminul Aowal told Deccan Chronicle that the census will cover the Goria, Moria, Desi communities and the tea tribe of Jolha, whom the state government considers indigenous (like other ethnic tribes and communities of the state).
The Muslim population constitutes about 34.22 per cent of the 3.55 crore population of Assam. This includes about 40 lakh indigenous Muslims. The move to conduct a survey comes at a time when the proportion of the indigenous population of Assam, which was 47 per cent in 2001, came down to 40.45 per cent in 2016 due to the influx of migrants.
Pointing out that the department would take all the stakeholders into confidence, Aowal said, “The names of indigenous Muslims and Bangladeshi Muslims are the similar. As a result, the government faces a problem in identifying them for implementation of various welfare schemes. Since our government is committed to the welfare of indigenous Muslims, they should have a separate identity.”
He said preparations for the census are in the final stage. He hoped the exercise will commence “within this financial year”.
A meeting convened on February 11 by the state Minorities Development Department with various stakeholders belonging to indigenous Muslim communities will set the ball rolling for the census, which will be the first of its kind in the state, he said, adding that the state government would also be finalising the guidelines for the survey.
The religious break-up of Assam is: Hindu 61.47 per cent, Muslim 34.22 per cent, Christian 3.74 per cent, Buddhist 0.18 per cent, Jain 0.08 per cent, other religions 0.09 per cent and ‘not stated’ 0.16 per cent.