GUWAHATI, June 30: Worried over the rapidly changing demography in Assam, the State Government has adopted a population policy of its own – leading to the enactment of an Act. However, a big question mark continues to hang over the future of the State: will the soft measures as accommodated in the Act slow down the population growth in the State?
The burgeoning growth of population in Assam, especially among the religious minorities, is posing a threat to the State’s indigenous people. Official records say that the Hindu population of Assam minus tribal people was 57.81 lakh in 1951 against a Muslim population of 19.81 lakh. In 2001, while the growth of Hindu population was recorded three-fold (1.72 crore), that of the Muslim was recorded four-fold (82.40 lakh). Such a rapid growth rate of Muslim population in the State is attributed to lack of education, polygamy, superstition etc.
Taking the ground reality into account, an expert says: “In fact, the State government didn’t have any policy of its own to check social evils like child marriage, superstition etc over the years. A Muslim male becomes the father of two or three children at the average age at which a Hindu male enters into wedlock. The problem lies in the fact that –if the concept of small family is ingrained among the Hindus, it’s the concept of bigger family that’s ingrained among the Muslims. And this is glaringly visibility in the sar areas.”
When asked if the new Act is going to have its impact on the burgeoning growth of Muslim population in the State, the expert says: “Soft measures like two-child norm for fighting local body elections, women education, women empowerment etc are not going to work unless harsh measures are taken. By the phrase ‘harsh measures’ I mean making families violating the two-child norm live off the grid – without water supply, LPG connection, power connection, rations cards etc.”
Official records say that there were 2,251 sars in Assam in 2003-04 since when there is no survey of sar areas in the State. Official records further say that the population growth in sar areas between 1992 and 2004 was 55 per cent.
A few others say that the rapid population growth among the minorities inflict heavy casualties on the indigenous Muslims of Assam who, as often as not, are deprived of the benefits of various schemes meant for religious minorities. The crux of the problem remains that if the rapid growth of population among the religious minorities in Assam is not checked through some harsher measures, all other efforts like women education, women empowerment etc are not going to yield much results, another section feels.
Dr Ilias Ali, who has long been engaged in bringing about awareness on population control among the religious minorities in Assam, says: “Women education and women empowerment as mentioned in the Act in the State can go a long way, if they’re implemented properly. Bulk of the problem will be solved if these two aspects are taken care of. Nothing much can be done if Muslim women aren’t aware of the problems they are in. This can be done well through ASHA and Anganwadi workers who can persuade women in sar areas for education. Awareness among minority women can put an end to child marriage that’s taking place at the age of 12/14 in sar areas.”
Dr Ali further said: “Of late, the Jamiat-Ulama-e-Hind has decided to ban girls’ marriage before attaining 18 years of age. That’s a good decision.”