The Jamiat has falsified Assam’s history to suit its sectarian agenda and its intention is as apparent as it is atrocious.
A recent blatant attempt by the Assam unit of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind to distort the state’s history has caused outrage in the Northeastern state.
The distortion is aimed at getting all Muslim immigrants from erstwhile East Bengal and East Pakistan (and now Bangladesh) included in the definition of ‘indigenous people of Assam’.
The Assam unit of the Jamiat, which is part of radical Wahabi-influenced Islamic revivalist Deobandi movement, has asserted that except for some hills and plains tribes like the Khasis, Bodos, Dimasas and Koch Rajbongshis, all present-day residents of Assam are non-indigenous.
The Jamiat made this specious contention in a memorandum submitted to a committee constituted by the Union government in July last year to recommend measures for effective implementation of Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord.
This clause promises “appropriate constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”.
One of the primary tasks for the committee headed by Justice (retired) Biplab Kumar Sharma is to decide on the definition of ‘Assamese’. And it is with this that the Jamiat attempts to play foul.
The Jamiat, in its memorandum, has falsified Assam’s history to suit its sectarian agenda of getting all Muslim immigrants from East Pakistan and Bangladesh included in the definition of ‘Assamese’ people and in having these immigrants acknowledged as ‘indigenous people’ of Assam.
The Jamiat, much to the chagrin of the Assamese, has held that the term ‘Assam’ is of recent origin and that the term finds no mention in ancient texts like the Mahabharat and Kalika Puran.
The Islamic body quotes selectively from the late nineteenth century history textbook Assam Buranji written by renowned historian Gunabhiram Barua to buttress their spurious contention that Muslim immigrants are indigenous people of Assam.
The Jamiat has said that “there is no fixed and accepted criteria on the basis of which ‘original inhabitants’ (called khilonjias in Assamese) can be determined”. The Jamiat argues that this is so because throughout the state’s long history, the geographical and political boundaries of Assam changed frequently and also because of “continuous immigration of different groups of people from outside” that caused changes in the state’s “cultural and linguistic setup”.
What has sparked the indignation of the Assamese is the Jamiat’s contention that “except some hills and plains tribes like Khasis, Bodos, Dimasas, Koch Rajbongshis etc, all other groups of people are of immigrant origin”.
“What the Jamiat has said is that Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh are as indigenous to Assam as the Ahom rulers of the past. That is ridiculous and completely unacceptable,” said history professor Anirban Das.
“They (the Muslim immigrants) have taken away our lands, altered our demography, spoilt our culture and now they want to falsify our history. This is outrageous,” said Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
“The Jamiat’s statement (in the memorandum) that when the Ahoms were ruling over eastern Assam Muslim invaders ruled over parts of western Assam amounts to a selective reading of history and its falsification. Muslims never ruled over any part of Assam for even a fairly decent period of time,” said historian Dhruba Goswami.
The Jamiat, in its memorandum, then goes on to assert that large parts of present-day Assam (it specifies Dhubri, Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Karimganj districts and parts of some other districts) were part of the Mughal empire when the British annexed them in 1765. These districts are mostly Muslim-majority ones today.
“This is another falsification of history. It is well known that Dhubri, Goalpara and adjoining areas were an integral part of the Koch-Rajbongshi kingdom for centuries and to say that they were part of the Mughal empire is a deliberate distortion of history. The Jamiat’s sinister motive of distorting history to bestow the ‘indigenous’ label on Muslim immigrants is condemnable,” said chronicler Bhaskar Mahanta.
The Jamiat asserts that it was the British who encouraged migration by millions of landless Muslim peasants from erstwhile East Bengal to Assam to grow more food. That migration, it contends, was legal since it took place from one part of the British dominion to another.
The Jamiat, in its memorandum, ultimately demands that all people (and their descendants) who were residing in Assam as on 23 March 1971 (the cut-off date for identification of ‘foreigners’ under the Assam Accord) should be treated as ‘Assamese’ under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
This, in effect, means that the millions of Muslim immigrants from East Pakistan and Bangladesh residing in Assam today should be treated as khilonjias (indigenous Assamese) and should be entitled to the proposed reservations in elected bodies and jobs for the indigenous people of Assam.
“This demand is completely unacceptable and would amount to a total dilution of the letter and spirit of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord,” said Kanak Deka, a social activist.
The Jamiat’s contention that the Assam Accord is “only a memorandum of settlement” between three parties (the Assam and Union governments and the All Assam Students’ Union) and not a law has also got the goat of the Assamese.
“The Assam Accord, signed after years of hardships and mass agitations which claimed 860 lives, is sacrosanct to the Assamese people and we will not tolerate its dilution or trivialisation,” warned a senior leader of the powerful All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) who did not want to be named since he is not the official spokesperson.
The Jamiat’s memorandum to the Justice Sharma headed committee was signed by the secretary of its state committee, Maulana Fazlul Karim Qasimi. The Jamiat’s attempt to distort Assam’s history to serve its sinister end of getting Muslim immigrants from East Pakistan and Bangladesh included in the definition of ‘Assamese people’ has caused widespread outrage in the state.
The Justice Sharma committee is expected to submit its report soon. The committee, apart from providing a concrete definition of ‘Assamese’, is also expected to recommend a host of serious measures like reservations for indigenous Assamese in elected bodies and jobs, and restrictions on transfer and ownership of land and immovable properties, in its report.
And this is why the Islamist Jamiat has submitted a memorandum full of falsehoods. The Jamiat’s intention is as apparent as it is atrocious: get Muslim immigrants recognised as khilonjias so that they can also enjoy the benefits of reservations and other protections that will be recommended by the Clause 6 committee.