Every eligible Indian Muslim in Assam will be granted a Minority Certificate: Himanta Biswa Sarma

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The government of Assam announced on May 29 that it would issue minority status certificates to the six religious communities defined as minorities by the central government: Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis. “This is the first time that such certificates would be handed out,” said Keshab Mahanta, Assam’s Minister of Health and Family Welfare, adding that the request had come from the Minority Development Council of Assam. ‘State.

Habib Mohammad Chowdhury, chairman of the Assam Minorities Development Board, said the move would help minorities enjoy the benefits of various government programs meant for them. The Assam government’s decision came seven years after the Center announced that people from minority communities would not need to obtain certificates from civil servants to qualify for welfare benefits. and that self-attestation would be sufficient.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told INDIA TODAY that the move is aimed at eliminating the misuse of minority status to enjoy government benefits. “Many undeserving applicants take advantage of these benefits. We are just following a recent central government directive to issue certificates to the six minority communities so that the benefits reach the targeted beneficiaries,” Sarma said.

While the modalities for issuing these certificates are not yet defined, the plan of the government of Assam worries the rivals of the ruling BJP and certain sections of society. What made many suspicious of the motives of the state government was the Chief Minister’s earlier statement on redefining minorities by district, based on geography, population and perception of the threat. In March, Sarma had sought to define Muslims as a majority community in certain areas, pointing out that in districts like South Salmara, Hindus were in the minority while Muslims made up the majority of the population.

Speaking exclusively to INDIA TODAY, Chief Minister Sarma said the decision to issue minority certificates had nothing to do with his call for redefining minority status. “These certificates will be issued to the six communities marked by the central government. So every Muslim, Indian citizen and residing in any part of Assam, will get the minority certificate,” he said.

On May 9, the Center advised the Supreme Court that the power to notify minorities rests with the Union government and that any decision in this regard would be made after discussions with states and other stakeholders. Currently, in addition to the six centrally notified religious groups, some states, such as Maharashtra, have an additional list of communities – for example Jews – defined as minorities. Assam does not have a state-specific list.

“Not just Muslims, the other five religious groups will also receive certificates. It’s not meant for just one specific religion,” says Sarma. According to the 2011 census, Muslims constitute 34.2% of Assam’s population; Christians represent 3.7% while the percentage of Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains is less than 1%.

What has also added to the fear of minorities, especially Muslims, is the Chief Minister’s recent announcement that a separate classification for indigenous Muslim minorities, who have not migrated from other places, will be completed d here on August 15th. Muslims who have not migrated from Bangladesh and speaking Assamese are generally perceived as native or Assamese Muslims.

Although there has been no officially accepted definition of these Muslims – known as Goria, Moria, Deshi and Julaha – the Sarma-led BJP government has sought to distinguish them from Bengali-speaking Muslims, who come mostly from Bangladesh. The exercise to distinguish these Assamese-speaking Muslims from their Bengali-speaking counterparts began last year, immediately after Sarma took over. Conducted in consultation with indigenous Muslim community leaders, it is now expected to result in an official community definition on August 15.

Sarma, however, said this exercise had nothing to do with the decision to issue minority certificates. “All Indian Muslims in Assam, whether they speak Assamese or Bengali and regardless of their origin, will get minority certificates,” he said. When asked if a special benefit from the government would be given to Assamese-speaking Muslims, he said the government is currently focusing on identifying them so that they can take pride in their linguistic and cultural heritage and maintain their identity. with the glory and dignity they deserve. .

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