, by DR. SYED AHMED
The Assamese speaking Muslims or the indigenous Muslims of Assam are today asserting that the government has overlooked them and their identity has been threatened by the migrant Bengali Muslims, who entered Assam mainly from eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh) over the century. They claim that the other Assamese tend to look them as migrants, and allege that over the years the migrant Bengali Muslims are reaping the benefits given by the government. Many social activists and civil society organisations of the community are on the move to safeguard their rights and identity. They are demanding special ethnic group status and other constitutional safeguards, and special economic package from the state government. The activists are even threatening to launch an agitation if the government fails to fulfil the demands.
The activists are accusing the political parties of the state for their patronising attitude towards the migrant Muslim population thereby neglecting the indigenous Muslims. The migrant Muslims constitute a huge vote bank. The activists claim that the migrant Muslims are today the deciding factor in at least 30 constituencies out of the total 126 assembly constituencies. They are the majority in six assembly constituencies. Obviously, all the government facilities and schemes are targeted at benefiting the migrant Muslims. On the other hand, the indigenous Muslims are scattered all over the state and therefore they do not constitute a vote bank. This makes the indigenous Muslims politically insignificant. The activists assert that the indigenous Muslims have played significant roles in several crucial moments in the history of Assam, and the community has produced numerous prominent figures in the various fields, like Fakhuruddin Ali Ahmed, former President of India (1974-77), literary figures like Muhammad Piar, Syed Abdul Malik, Moyidul Islam Bora, Mafizuddin Ahmed Hazarika, to name a few. However, a section of indigenous Muslims disapprove that their identity has been endangered by the migrant Bengali Muslims and discriminated by the government.
Muslims constitute nearly one-third of the state population (30.9%), the second highest after Jammu & Kashmir. They account 8,240,611 of the state total population of 26,655,528. Goapara, Dhubri, Barpeta, Nagaon, Karimganj and Hailakandi are some of the Muslim concentration districts of Assam.
The indigenous Muslim community, locally known as Garias, accounts 35 lakh. The term Gariya is believed to have been derived from the word gaur, the then Muslim capital of Bengal, from where the Muslims trace their origin. They have a history of 800 years in Assam. A series of campaigns by Muslim rulers from Bengal and Delhi took place from the 13th to the 17th centuries. The indigenous Muslims or the Garias are mainly the descendants of the Muslims who stayed back after these campaigns. They settled down by marrying local girls. The earliest record of Muslim settlement in the region dates back to the campaign of Nawab of Bengal Alauddin Hussain Shah (1493-1519), who after overpowering the ruler of Kamrup in 1498 annexed it. Sultan Ghiyasuddin, who was appointed governor of the occupied territory established a Muslim colony in Hajo. When Turbak, a Muslim general from Bengal invaded Assam in 1532 Muslims troops, numbering around 900 were taken as prisoners. They were later settled in Assam. Morias, a class of the indigenous Assamese Muslims found mainly in Kamrup, Sivasagar and Lakhimpur regarded themselves as the descendants of these captive Muslims. They still today regard Turbak as traditional chief. They manufacture household utensils from brass and bell-metal and are associated with it still today.
Muslims in large scale emigrated in western part of Assam when Koch Hajo, comprising the present districts of Kamrup and Goalpara region from 1613 to 1667 by the Mughals. Hajo became a stronghold and headquarters of the Mughals. It was during this period of Mughal occupation that Muslim military generals and nobles were conferred fiefs or military jagirs in this region.?????
The Assamese kings also introduced and patronised learned and skilled Muslims. Scholarly Muslims were attached to the Ahom court as scribes, known as Parsi-parhias; and the royal mint was also by and large under the supervision of Muslim officials. Many of the Assamese kings and queens struck coins with Persian legends engraved on them. Muslim artisans and craftsmen were incorporated into khanikar khel, a guild or a functional class of artisans. Some of the Muslim functional classes incorporated in the khel were Khargharia or manufacturers of gun-powder, Senchowa or hawk-trainers, Mistri or carpenters and ivory workers, Rahankara or dyers and painters, Rajmistry or architect and craftsman, Darji or tailors, Jola or cotton cloth weavers, Hil garha ustad or maker of steel and copper cannon, Karsipar bankara or cloth-embroiders, etc.
Many from the local population were also believed to have converted to Islam through the preaching of the several Pirs who visited and settled down in Assam. Many of these preachers accompanied the invading Muslim troops. They were patronised by the Assamese kings, by granting pir-pal lands (revenue free lands) and stipends and even bearing the cost of the maintenance of the shrines of popular Pirs. The names of some of the prominent Pirs who took to preaching and proselytising activities in Assam are Ghiyasuddin Auliya, Hasrat Osman Gani; Shah Akbar, Shah Sufi, Shah Kamal, Shah Pagmar and Shah Sharan, popularly known as Panch Pir; Baba Langar Shah; Sawal Pir, popularly known as Bandar Pir; Komaldya Khunkar Muhammad Gain, Azan Pir, among others. Their dargahs are visited by people of all faiths to fulfil their prayers even today. Even urs (anniversaries) of many Pirs are held every year.?
The immigrant Muslims are, by and large, the descendants of those Muslim farmer-migrants who emigrated mainly from Mymensingh, Rangpur, Pabna and Bogna districts of Eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh ) in the 19th and 20th centuries. They took to cultivation by reclaiming the fertile wastelands of Assam. Sharp social divisions between indigenous Muslims and the migrant Muslims developed from the late 19th century. These two broad groups hardly enter into matrimonial relations. The indigenous Assamese Muslims are mainly concentrated in upper part of Assam whereas the migrant Muslims mainly in lower part of Assam.