GUWAHATI, Jan 17 � Some serious challenges confront members of the Muslim community in Assam, and there is a need for government as well as non-government interventions to address those. Areas which require a strategic approach range from education to politics.
This was an observation common to several speakers who took part in a symposium 'Muslims in Assam: Challenges and Opportunities', organised by the Centre for Development and Peace Studies, Guwahati.
Badruddin Ajmal, MP and president of AIUDF, identified a number of factors contributing to the present condition of Muslims in Assam. "Education is one of the most crucial challenges facing the community, and lack of it has closed the avenues of development for many people," he noted. He highlighted the poor education opportunities to people who lived in remote areas such as chars and chaporis.
Absence of strong Muslim political leaders, in his view, was another factor that had left the Muslims in a disadvantageous state. Barring a few, most political leaders have proved to be ineffective in addressing the need of the already deprived community, he observed.
The MP from Dhubri mentioned that the community in Assam continued to feel insecure as they have been targets of violence. Referring to the 1983 massacre in Nellie, he said that more than twenty years after it had happened, there still was no proper enquiry on the incident that led to the deaths of many Bengali speaking Muslims.
Discriminatory attitude to Muslims was identified as a hurdle in achieving a just and equitable society, and this was demonstrated even in the way the State Government functioned. Ajmal cited several instances in which the State Government failed to provide employment to Muslim youths in recruitment drives of recent years.
Regretting that directives from the Union Government were being ignored by the Assam Government, the AIUDF president stated that even after funds were sanctioned by the Union Government those were not utilised for the welfare of the minority communities.
In his address, Dr Monirul Hussain of Gauhati University's Sociology and Political Science Department emphasized that Muslims in Assam as in rest of India did not constitute a single homogenous group. He could recognise at least four major groups of the community in Assam who had distinctive cultural and linguistic traits.
Among those were Assamese Muslims, Na Asamiya, Urdu and Hindi speaking Muslims, and those in Barak Valley. Many of them have felt the effects of political developments, including those who were taken in preventive custody during the 1965 war with Pakistan.
He said that a section of Muslims in Assam, including the immigrant Muslims, felt the pressure when it came to issues such as citizenship. The situation is made more complicated by the fact that there was no credible data to substantiate the real size of the migrant population in Assam.
The senior academic pointed out that the Muslim community was in difficult situation because of existing political dynamics of the State. While a section of them was put under pressure by certain quarters, another political group tried to take advantage by promising them political support and patronage.
Having better educational opportunities was one way for the Muslim community to get empowered and its effects in time will be felt in many others spheres, he noted. Formation of a larger middle class through education and economic growth would even reflect in areas such as family planning in the near future, he added.
In another session, the participants deliberated on Madrassa education in Assam and the need for a new curriculum. They agreed that there were several drawbacks in the existing system, and those need to be attended if students have to benefit from their education.
The concluding session of the two-day symposium saw a discussion on Islam and modernity, with special reference to Assam.