The Assam cabinet this week decided to grant indigenous status to five Muslim groups. The Goria, Moria, Jolha, Deshi, and Syed will now be known as “indigenous Assamese Muslims”, said state minister Keshab Mahanta while briefing the media in Guwahati.
This will essentially separate these subgroups from the Bengali-speaking Muslims who migrated from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), locally known as “Miya Muslims”. This was a long-standing demand of several Assamese Muslim groups and they are jubilant about the state government’s decision.
The cabinet decision comes after the recommendations of seven subcommittees constituted by Assam chief minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma’s government.
These panels were basically formed to study the socio-economic conditions of these five subgroups.
The subcommittees formed by the Department of Minority Welfare and Development in the year 2021 studied the cultural identity, education, population control, health services, financial inclusion, skill development, and women’s empowerment of the indigenous Assamese Muslims living in the state for hundreds of years. They submitted their report to the chief minister and following this the cabinet approved the indigenous status of the subgroups.
Lawyer Nekubur Zaman, who has been advocating for indigenous status for Assamese-speaking Muslims since 2006 expressed satisfaction over the state government’s decision. He also sought a population census of indigenous Muslims scattered around the state which is estimated to be around 40 lakh out of the 1.07 crore total Muslim population of Assam. He argued that Bengal- speaking Muslims always got all the government scheme benefits while these subgroups were ignored.
These subgroups of Assam Muslims basically originated from several ethnic groups and have a specific history of their own.
Goria: Available data says the Gorias originally belonged to various ethnic groups such as Maran, Matak, Barahi, Chutia, Koch, Ahom, Kachari, Mess, etc. Initially, these were nature worshippers and stayed isolated from their fellow group members who accepted the Hindu religion. Later, as the Islamic Sufi saints came to Assam, the people identified as Gorias were converted to Islam for various reasons.
Moria: During the Ahom dynasty, the Muslims associated with copper and brass making were known as Marias. The Marias are found in parts of southern Assam, Nagaon district, Ujan Bazar and Hajo in southern Guwahati.
Deshi: Deshis are basically found in the Undivided Goalpara District of Assam. This subgroup is a mixture of ethnic groups mainly living in South Assam like Koch, Mech, Nath-Yogi, Kalita, Garo, Rava, Rajbanshi, etc, who converted to Islam for various social and historical reasons.
Jolha: A small community of Muslims living in parts of eastern Assam, they are also believed to have converted from the Adivasis. There were two stages of migration of the community to Assam. They were initially brought to work as artisans during the reign of the Ahom kings. And the second is in the late nineteenth century when the British tea growers brought in large numbers of Jolhas to work in the plantations.
The Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have a strong support base among the erstwhile East Bengal-origin Muslims while the state BJP leadership and chief minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma repeatedly criticised “Miya” Muslims on several occasions and publicly announced that they don’t need or want “Miya” votes. On the other hand, the Assamese Muslims were always in favour of segregation from “Miya” Muslims, so the BJP is criticised for using this as an opportunity to create a base among Assam Muslims.
The state BJP leadership, however, has refuted these allegations and says that the government only wants development of Assamese Muslims and at the same time seeks to protect them from the infiltration which is so frequent in Assam.
Speaking to CNN-News18, Aminul Islam of AIUDF stated, “This is a way to make divisions between the Muslim people of the state…It has been defined by the Constitution who is to be declared minorities in the state, and country. But the BJP is now outlawing the Constitution and declaring minorities on its own. This is only another way for the BJP to bring differences between Goriyas, Moriyas, and Deshis. Earlier it was a game of religion (Hindu-Muslim), now they are trying to bring differences within the religion. The BJP is trying to show the people to what extent they can harass the Muslims of the state.”
With inputs from News18