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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

REJOINDER

Growth of Assam Muslims and foreigners 

The Milli Gazette Online 

I am thankful to Syed Shahabuddin Sahab for going through my article on the illegal migrants (MG, 16-31 January 2005) and making some observations on the subject under caption ‘Assam Muslims and IMDT’ (MG, 1-15 February 2005). In view of his observations, I would like to respond as follows:

According to the Memorandum of Settlement, the foreigners who came to Assam during the period from January 1, 1966 to March 24, 1971 including those amongst them whose names did not appear in the electoral rolls used in 1967 election shall be detected under the Foreigners’ Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 and their names deleted from the voter list in force for ten years from the date of detection. Hence, an attempt was made to ascertain the number of pre-1971 foreigners and their religious identity so that the Indian Muslims living in the state are not unduly harassed and persecuted under the influence of the chauvinistic and fascist forces at the time of detection of such foreigners.

The growth rate of Muslims in Assam is higher than that of the Muslims of other states not because of illegal infiltration of Bangladeshi Muslims into the state but because of several reasons including socio-economic one. 

The Muslims are socio-economically the most backward community of the state. Illiteracy, unemployment and poverty are widespread among them. In 1991 there were 6.37 million Muslims in the state, out of this 1.5 million were landless. The number of Muslims having 2/3 bighas of land was 3.0 million. Thus a total of 4.5 (1.5+3.0) million Muslims were living below the poverty line. Literacy rate among them was not even five percent (Hidayat, Assamese, monthly, June 1997:3). Since the overwhelming majority of Muslims are socio-economically backward, growth rate among them is very high. 

There are 1611 sand banks in the state. They are isolated from mainland by rivers. As per the economic survey conducted in 2002-2003, there are 2551 villages in the sand banks comprising 0.36 million hectares of land inhabited by 2.49 million Muslims. Many of the villages of the sand banks were left out of count during the earlier censuses because of lack of road communication. The coverage of the population of the sand banks in the censuses of 1991 and 2001 was a reason of high increase in the Muslim population during 1971-2001. The female ratio among Muslims is higher than that of the Hindus as they do not normally resort to the cruel practice of female feticide. This has also contributed to growth of the Muslim population.

A good number of non-Assamese Hindus from the state has migrated to other Indian states during the last two decades because of violence caused by different over ground and under ground elements. Even many students from the Assamese Hindu community have gone outside the state for study. Some Hindus might have come to the fold of Islam during 1971-2001. These factors have been responsible for the growth of the Muslim population in the state.

In the state where non-Assamese speaking Indian people find it difficult to live and earn their livelihood, the contention that the Bangladeshis are coming and living there a comfortable life is untenable.

After scrutiny of the population figures given by Syed Shahabuddin Sahab, it is found that the growth rate of Christians was 16.52 percent during 1971-2001 not 28.57 percent as shown. The Christian growth rate is higher than the Muslim growth rate.

The total population growth rate of Assam fell to 18.85 percent in 1991-2001 from 34.95 percent in 1961-1971. It was 53.26 percent in 1971-1991. The reduction in the total growth rate of population shows that there is no immigration of Bangladeshis particularly Bangladeshi Muslims into the state. The low Hindu growth rate despite unabated infiltration of Nepalese from Bhutan and Nepal and the high Muslim population growth rate during 1971-2001 indicate that there has been migration of people from the Hinduism to the Christianity.

The Muslims of Assam must be aware that their harassment and persecution as foreigners will not be over until they are educationally and economically advance and have their own media to counter the fascist and chauvinistic ideas and philosophies generated by a section of the Assamese intellectuals and propagated by the high caste Hindu dominated media. They should also consider the case for adopting Urdu as their lingua franca instead of Assamese and Bengali. Urdu will help them to come closer to the Muslims of other Indian states and distinguish themselves from the Bangladeshis. The threat to repeal the IM (DT) Act will remain until the Act is extended to the whole of India. The nation will not be free from the danger of communal violence until the policy of dividing the voters on communal line to win elections is banned. 

Muhammad Hasibur Rahman 
hasib_412@yahoo.com
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