GUWAHATI: Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told the State Assembly in clear terms that the State Government's population control policy 'is anti-poverty, not anti-Muslims'.
Delving deep into the issue, the Chief Minister said, "With this population policy we want to wipe out the population boom-related backwardness in sar-sapori and other minority-dominated areas. Doing politics on such a crucial issue will not lead us to any fruitful end. Amidst differences, all – Congress, AIUDF, AGP and BJP – want population control."
Under Rule 50, Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed did raise the condition of Muslims in sar-saporis in the House.
Several members from the ruling and the Opposition parties took part in the issue. Despite differences in their thought process, all the speakers supported the population control policy of the government.
In his reply, the Chief Minister said, "The Muslims residing in sar areas have to control their fast population growth. Facilities for education and healthcare, besides awareness, are poor in sar areas. We need to realize the ground realities of sars to make the population policy a success there. The government is ready to bring about overall development in sar and other Muslim-dominated areas of the State. We are contemplating recruiting 10,000 additional ASHA workers to educate women in family planning. We will recruit 1,000 boys from sars and saporis for this purpose.
"Many Muslims criticized me for my recent discussion with the indigenous Muslims of the State. They termed it as a divide-and-rule policy. One thing is crystal clear that there are stark differences between indigenous and other Muslims. They have a common religion, but different languages and cultures. The Ajan, Zikir, Jaari etc of the indigenous Muslims have mentioned the mahapurush (great men), naamghars, xatras etc. Such elements are not there in the culture of the Muslims of Dhubri, Goalpara etc districts. It's a fact that because of these Muslims the existence of the indigenous Muslims of the State is at stake. There's not a single member in this august House from the indigenous Muslims. On the contrary, the other Muslims have sent several members to this House.
"The lifestyles of upper Assam, central Assam and lower Assam are different. Let an upper Assam team of MLAs visit lower Assam and such a team from lower Assam visit upper Assam to see diverse lifestyles. Such a visit will expose the differences in the living standards of the Muslims in upper Assam, central Assam and lower Assam.
"If we go by the census reports, it is clear that from 1991-2001 the growth of Muslim population in the State fell from 34 per cent to 29 per cent. From 2001 to 2011 the growth of the Muslim population remained 29 per cent. On the contrary, in that decade the growth of the Hindu population fell from 16 per cent to 10 per cent. The government is ready to accept all that MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed said, barring his demand for population-wise job reservation. The rising population in some lower Assam LACs has created a lack of land. This has led to the encroachment of government lands, forest lands etc as the overgrown population has to live somewhere."
Earlier Sherman Ali Ahmed said that lack of education facilities, healthcare facilities, child marriage etc., have made the Muslims in sar areas backwards. The government should ensure all-around development in sar areas, he said.
Ahmed further said that the fertility rate of Muslim women fell to 2.4 per cent from what it was earlier. This should be 2.1 per cent, he said.
On the population of sar areas, he said: "Only four lakh of the 24 lakh sar population in the State are literate. The authority should stop early marriage in sars. If need be, the government should make the marriageable age 20 years, instead of 18 years. The government can never make Assam the best state leaving the 34 per cent Muslim population aside."
BJP's Mrinal Saikia said, "Had the population control measures taken some 15-20 years ago, the situation wouldn't have come to such a pass. Now 11 districts in the State are Muslim majority."
AIUDF MLA Rafiqul Islam supported the population control policy. He, however, added, "Why are the sar population viewed with suspicion as Bangladeshis? Many came to Assam before the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh."