The Assam cabinet has recognised around 40 lakh Assamese-speaking Muslims as “indigenous Assamese Muslims” and a sub-group of the greater native community. These people do not have any history of migration from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). This group was earlier loosely known as “indigenous Muslims”, but did not have any official recognition. The BJP-led state government’s approval makes a clear distinction between native Muslims and Bangladesh-origin Bengali-speaking immigrant Muslims, comprising more than 63% of the state’s Muslim population. Assam has the highest proportion of Muslims after Lakshadweep and J&K. The 2011 Census states that the community accounts for over 34% of Assam’s population. And just a little over 37% of that total are Assamese-speaking Muslims.
The cabinet decision has also recognised the long aspiration of Assamese-speaking Muslims for whom their identity as native Assamese preceded their religious identity. Minister Keshab Mahanta said, “The cabinet has approved a new nomenclature for five Muslim groups—Goria, Moria, Jolah (only those living in tea gardens), Desi and Syed (only the Assamese speaking). They will henceforth be known as indigenous Assamese Muslims. ” The cabinet note says, “This move will ensure their development in health, cultural identity, education, financial inclusion, skill development and women empowerment. ”
This group of Muslims trace their lineage to the 15th century and the majority of them converted to Islam between 13th and 17th centuries. None of these groups can be called migrants.
The migrant Muslims have been the block around which electoral battles have been fought in the state. Assamese-speaking Muslims have neither been the deciding factor in any election nor the beneficiaries of government funds for minorities because of their numbers. The Janagosthiya Samannay Parishad, Assam, is now carrying out the first-ever headcount to distinguish Assamese Muslims from their Bangladesh-origin counterparts.