Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has asserted that his administration arrested an equivalent number of Muslims and Hindus in child marriage incidences to avoid being accused of communal bias, although Muslim-majority regions had a higher rate of such incidents.
Sarma informed the State Assembly that “some of our people” were also detained so that opposition MLAs would not feel discriminated against. The Muslim to Hindu arrest ratio since 3 February crackdown is 55:45, he said.
The Assam CM cited NFHS 5 data to say that the issue of underage marriages and childbirth is more prevalent in Dhubri and South Salmara, which are Muslim-majority districts, than in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia.
"But because you communalise every single thing, I told the Dibrugarh SP to pick up a few from there as well. NFHS 4 data collated during Congress times also shows that the highest number of underage marriages and childbirths is done in Lower Assam districts [where there is a greater Muslim population],” he was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.
According to Sarma, the NFHS 4 data, which was compiled during Congress' rule, also indicates that Lower Assam districts, which have a higher Muslim population, have the highest number of cases of underage marriages and childbirth.
Sarma said that Muslims in Assam are experiencing unprecedented levels of peace and tranquility in recent times.
He pointed out that there have been no communal clashes in several regions, including Udalguri, Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR), and Kokrajhar.
The Muslim community in Assam is also benefiting from the government's initiatives to improve education and infrastructure.
Sarma acknowledged that there are concerns that a disproportionate number of Muslims have been beneficiaries of the PM Awas Yojna housing scheme.
He also highlighted the unprecedented road infrastructure projects being implemented in Muslim villages, indicating that they have never witnessed such development in the past.
Sarma also criticised the focus of opposition on encounters, saying, “Today if someone honestly asks how many minority people in Assam have died of communal attacks, you people keep talking about encounters".
He pointed out that communal attacks are intentional, while encounters are not. The police only respond with force when necessary for self-defense.
"Are encounters something that gets done deliberately? Communal attacks are deliberate… If someone brings out their revolver, only then will the police bring out their revolver,” he added.
He also accused the Opposition MLAs of shedding "crocodile tears" for Assam's minorities and stated that the law being used to evict people from forest lands during the state's anti-encroachment drive was passed by a Congress-led government at the Centre.
Population control in Lower Assam districts is a bigger issue than evictions, according to him.
Sarma emphasized the need to control population in Lower Assam to prevent land scarcity in the future. He pointed out that even if he refrained from eviction, the land would not be sufficient for the next generation if families continued having many children.
“The main thing is that till the population is controlled in Lower Assam, we will stop having land… Even if I don’t do an eviction today, where will the next generation live if one family has eight children,” he said.
Sarma explained that the current law granting forest rights to specific groups, either tribal or caste-based, was enacted by the Congress government in 2005.
He stated that if any of these groups lived in the forest before 2005, they would have rights to the land.
However, he raised concerns about why the previous Congress government did not establish a similar provision for minorities to receive land deeds.
Sarma questioned the reason for overlooking the needs of minorities and emphasised that he cannot be held responsible for any hardships they may face today.
"Why do we not remember minorities when in power? Today if people from minorities face difficulties, I don’t have the responsibility of answering for that,” he said.
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