GUWAHATI: Over the years immigrant Muslims had been availing all benefits of schemes meant for the welfare of minorities in Assam, depriving other minorities like indigenous Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and others. It had been so because in the parlance of the previous governments the word 'minorities' and the phrase 'immigrant Muslims' were literally synonymous.
However, after the BJP-led government coming to power in the State in 2016, things on this front have gone for a change. This State government is trying to do away with the impression that 'minorities' means 'immigrant Muslims' through its inclusive schemes with due accommodation of other minorities like indigenous Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and others under the umbrella term 'minorities'.
MsDP (Multi-sectoral Development Programme) schemes in various districts with 30 per cent or more minority population are steps towards that direction. Unlike its predecessors this government has brought other minorities also in the list of minority beneficiaries of MsDP schemes. Forty per cent of the MsDP funds have been sliced off for other minority communities – 20 per cent for non-MsDP districts (district with less than 30 per cent minority population), 10 per cent for ST(Plain) and ST (Hill) and 10 per cent OBC (Other Backward Classes) and (MOBC) Most Other Backward Classes.
In February this year, this government took a decision to conduct a survey to ascertain the population of indigenous Muslims like Goria, Moria, Desi and Jolah (tea community) and others in the State. For this the Minority Department of the State requested the government to take up the matter with the RGI (Registrar General of India) so as to make the survey and its outcome valid for all practical purposes. However, things haven't turned out the way it was planned – maybe, the outbreak of corona and the subsequent lockdown have slowed down the process.
Talking to The Sentinel, AMDB (Assam Minority Development Board) Chairman Muminul Aowal said, "In the previous governments in the State all posts relating to the welfare of minorities – right from the minister heading the Department of Minority Welfare to the chairperson of the AMDB – were held by immigrant Muslims. Huge chunks of minority schemes' benefits like thela (push cart), rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, tractors etc went to immigrant Muslims, depriving their indigenous counterpart and other indigenous minority communities of the State. However, now the present State government has shifted the thrust areas of minority development to education, road connectivity and health in minority-inhabited areas. A number of model schools, girls' hostels etc are coming up with MsDP funds in minority-dominated areas in the State."
According to 2011 Census, while Muslim population in Assam is around 28 lakh, the population of other minorities like Christians, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists together is around 4 lakh.
Aowal further said, "Jains and Sikhs hardly come forward for availing any benefits under minority welfare schemes in Assam. Indigenous Muslims of the State also rarely apply for such benefits. Sometimes Christians and Tea Tribes do come for availing such benefits. They get their share in the form of training for nurses etc. In such a situation, if the population survey of indigenous Muslims of Assam is conducted, we can disburse minority welfare funds in the right proportion in sync with their population."An allegation doing rounds in the State is that Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal's Cabinet is without any minister from minorities. This is factually not correct. Both Pramila Rani Brahma and Rihon Daimary belong to a minority community – Christians. We need to do away with the impression that 'minority' means 'only Muslims'."