GUWAHATI: Assam’s 40 lakh-strong population of Assamese-speaking Muslims could be officially classified as an “ethnic tribe” instead of the loosely used nomenclature “indigenous Muslims” to distinguish them from “immigrant” Muslims, the Assam Minorities Development Board said on Tuesday.
The proposal follows the minorities welfare department’s green signal to a census of ethnic Muslims, comprising the Goria, Moria, Desi and tea-tribe Jolha communities of the Brahmaputra Valley. The Bengali-speaking Maimal Muslim community spread across the Barak Valley of south Assam won’t be included in this census. Immigrant Bengali-speaking Muslims comprise more than 63% of the state’s total Muslim population.
“We have proposed replacing the term ‘indigenous’ with ‘ethnic tribe’ for Assamese-speaking Muslims because there is no official definition yet of ‘indigenous Assamese’,” minorities development board chairman Muminul Aowal said. “The Maimals mainly reside in the Barak Valley, and government will consider their case later. At this moment, we are talking of only those in Brahmaputra Valley.”
The basic criterion for recognition of any Assamese-speaking Muslim community as an “ethnic tribe” is that its members should not have any history of migration from the erstwhile East Pakistan. “The Goria, Moria, Desi and tea-tribe Jolha communities are already classified as MOBC (More Other Backward Classes). Their combined population is around 40 lakh,” Aowal said. “The Desi and Ujani groups will be clubbed as Desi while the Sayed group will included in Goria category.”
These Muslims trace their ancestry to ethnic groups that converted to Islam between the 13th and 17th centuries, Aowal said.
“None of these groups can be called immigrant Muslims. The Gorias and Morias worked for Ahom kings and the Desis were originally Koch-Rajbongshis who converted to Islam. The tea-tribe Jolhas are people brought by the British from the Chotta Nagpur Plateau to work in the tea estates of Assam,” Aowal said.
The change in the nomenclature will be notified once the proposal receives chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s nod. “This will be done before the start of the socio-economic census,” Aowal said. “We will complete the census before the assembly elections early next year.”


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