Historians, Assamese Muslims slam Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind theory calling natives 'migrants', term it distortion of history

The theory claims that the immigrants from the region known as Bangladesh today have Dravidian ancestry and were once residents of the land which is known as Assam today.

Kangkan Acharyya October 25, 2019 15:29:01 IST
Historians, Assamese Muslims slam Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind theory calling natives 'migrants', term it distortion of history
  • The theory claims that the immigrants from the region known as Bangladesh today have Dravidian ancestry and were once residents of the land which is known as Assam today.

  • Left with only Bangladesh-origin Muslims as its main constituency, the Jamiat seems to struggle to remain relevant for it with this new but absurd theory.

  • Clause 6 of the Assam Accord assures protection of Assamese culture and identity on the face of an onslaught of illegal migration from Bangladesh.

As per a new theory forwarded by the Assam chapter of the All India Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind immigrants from present-day Bangladesh are original inhabitants of Assam and not the Assamese people. According to this theory that has come up after the publication of the final NRC in August this year, the Assamese people who are demanding detection and deportation of illegal immigrants are themselves migrants.

The theory was first propounded by former Congress minister and lawyer Abdul Muhib Majumdar in his book Down the Memory Lane. Recently, Jamiat Ulema has annexed the part of the book with the theory, as a reference along with a copy of memorandum submitted to the high-level committee formed by the Government of India for implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.

Jamiat Ulema in this memorandum citing the above theory demanded that people who had their origin in present-day Bangladesh should also be recognised as indigenous.

Interestingly, the said theory has been rejected by historians and Assamese Muslim organisations alike as baseless and outlandish.

Historians Assamese Muslims slam Jamiat UlemaIHind theory calling natives migrants term it distortion of history

People stand in a queue to check their names on the final list of the NRC outside a Gaon Panchayat office in Pavakati village, Morigoan, Assam. PTI

 Theory explained

In a nutshell, the theory says that the immigrants from the region known as Bangladesh today have Dravidian ancestry and were once residents of the land which is known as Assam today. They were driven out of their land during Mongolian and Tibeto-Burman aggression. But during the colonial period, the British rulers initiated their migration back to Assam to grow more food in the region and therefore they are the original inhabitants of the land. The book annexed along with the memorandum says that the Assamese identity was formed by multiple migrant ethnicities and hence they are migrants.

“The history shows that all so-called indigenous people of Assam, as we understand them today, are themselves migrants who came to Assam at different stages of its history from different parts of India and outside,” reads the part of the book attached with the memorandum.

It further states, “Though it is hard to digest, the recent studies show that the people inhabiting the region i.e. the original settlers in Assam were the Dravidians or non-Aryans. They were pushed out by the Tibeto-Burman people and Mongolian tribes and they took shelter in the western region of Assam and Bengal most of whom later got converted to Islam. So the present people from Moimonsingh or so-called Bangladeshis are the original inhabitants of this region which was then known as Pragjyotishpur.”

According to this theory, during the colonial period mass scale migration took place from various parts of India which led to a massive rise in demand for food grains in Assam. To meet this demand Muslim peasants from Bengal were brought to Assam by Britishers to grow more food, it says.

“To feed the vast new migrant population and for the supply of different items, cultivators from Bengal the then East Bengal, mainly Bengali Muslims were imported who cleared jungle and created vast green fields for paddy cultivation and other vegetable products to feed these vast population. While 'Babus' mixed up with the Assamese middle class, the labourers in tea gardens became Scheduled Caste, the poor Bengali Muslims and Hindus who constituted the backbone of the agricultural revolution, trade and commerce began to be considered as foreigners, illegal migrants, infiltrators and what not!”

On annexing the part of the book which contains this theory, Jamiat Ulama clarifies its stand in the memorandum. It says, “Regarding the historical development of Barak and Brahmaputra Valley and touching the question of indigenous inhabitants of the same, Assam State Jamiat Ulama likes to annexe an erudite article written and incorporated by Mr. Abdul Muhib Mazumdar, a senior advocate of Gauhati High Court and a senior politician of the state of Assam in his book Down the Memory Lane No. 3” at pages 117 to 135 as Annexure – 1, which is self-explanatory.”

The Islamic organisation also demanded that all persons settled in Assam until 25 March 1971 be treated as “Assamese” within the meaning of clause 6 of the Assam Accord.

The Assam chapter of Jamiat Ulama mentions that it has included the theory propounded by Abdul Muhib Majumdar as a backgrounder.

“The part of the book which has been annexed with the memorandum is the history of this region. We just wanted to show that a significant part of present-day Bangladesh was also earlier part of India and adjacent to Assam. The migration happened across the region. Indian territory was formed along with the people living in it. So there is no point why a section of the people would not be considered as indigenous,” said Hafiz Bashir Ahmed Qasimi, general secretary of the Assam chapter of the Jamiat Ulama to Firstpost when asked if the organisation also subscribe to the same view as the progenitor of the theory.

Aminul Islam, another leader of the Jamiyat Ulama says that the motto of the memorandum was to help form a greater Assamese community and thereby protect Assamese culture.

“A pretty big section of the Muslims who migrated from the erstwhile East Bengal now speak Assamese. If we go on exclude people like this, then how would be Assamese culture and language saved?” he asks.

He further added that a composite Assamese society has to be promoted to prevent divisions in the society.

What historians say about this theory

Historians do not attribute any value to this theory.

Interestingly the theory annexed in the memorandum does not fix any date to its claim that Tibeto-Burman and Mongolian aggression pushed out Dravidians in Assam. But it claims that the phenomenon took prior to the ages of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Though it is a historical fact that mass-scale migration from present-day Bangladesh took place during the colonial period, there is no historical evidence to assert that the same group of people have any ancestry in Assam. No wonder that the historians have rejected the theory outright.

Sir Edward Albert Gait, a British Civil servant who served in Assam during the colonial period and authored one of the authoritative research works named History of Assam mentioned in his book, “Whether the first Mongolian settlers found Dravidians already established in Assam or not is a question that cannot now be unravelled. Logan thought there was a Dravidian basis to various Bodo and Naga dialects, and, if this were so, the answer might be given in the affirmative. But Dr. Grierson does not support his view.”

Rajen Saikia, a historian and author of a number of research works on Assam history said, “This theory has absolutely no academic value. We have never heard of such things. Historical theories cannot be a figment of imagination. Every theory has to be based on evidence. There is no such evidence to make such an assertion that there was a Dravidian habitat in Assam which was pushed out. Hence I do not think that the theory merits any academic discussion at all.”

Archaeologist and former deputy general of National Museum Robin Devchoudhury says that no evidence of the existence of Dravidian culture existing prior to Tibeto-Burman and Mongolian aggression in Assam have been found yet.

“Ancient coins, inscriptions, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas –we come to know about history from these sources. But these sources do not point to the existence of Dravidian culture and they being pushed out of the region due to aggression,” he says.

What Assamese Muslim organisations say about the theory

The ‘indigenous’ status is likely to entail certain reservations in jobs and representations, as mandated by Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. The Assamese Muslims, most of whom were converted to Islam from various tribes in Assam few hundred years back, are most likely to be the beneficiaries of these provisions for reservations.

Many Assamese Muslims are averse to sharing the benefits of reservations with the Bangladesh origin Muslims, as wished by the Jamiat Ulama.

There are nearly 40 lakh Assamese Muslims. The population size of Muslims who have their origins in present-day Bangladesh is more than double of that of Assamese Muslims.

Assamese Muslim organisations rule out the Jamiat theory as outlandish.

“Does this theory want us to go back to the ages prior to that of Ramayana and Mahabharata to ascertain whether the ancestors of present-day immigrants were in Assam during that period? Should we discuss this theory at all?” asks Matiur Rahman, a leader of a civil society organisation named Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha.

Disagreeing to the demand that migrants from the region which is known as Bangladesh today should be considered as indigenous people of Assam, Hafizul Ahmed, president of Sadou Asom Goriya Moriya Desi Jatiya Parishad said to Firstpost that as per United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people, any society to claim itself as indigenous to a territory must have historical continuity with pre-colonial or pre-settler society of that territory.

“There is no trace that Bangladesh origin people had origins in Assam prior to British aggression. So they can make no claim to be indigenous to Assam,” he said.

Monirul Islam Bora, Ujoni Asom Muslim Kalyan Parishad said that Jamiat Ulama has always advocated for the immigrant Muslims and never for the Assamese Muslims and hence the organisations voice should not be paid heed to.

Clause 6 of the Assam Accord

On July this year, the Ministry of Home Affairs formed a high-level committee on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord under the chairmanship of Justice (Retd) Biplab Kumar Sarma.

As per a notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the main function of the high level committee for implementation of the Clause 6 would be to assess the appropriate level of reservation of seats in Assam Legislative Assembly and local bodies for the Assamese people, suggest measures to be taken to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam, recommend the appropriate level of reservations in employment under the Government of Assam for the Assamese people.

Clause 6 of the Assam Accord assures protection of Assamese culture and identity on the face of an onslaught of illegal migration from Bangladesh. Last month the committee accepted suggestions from individuals and organisations about the course of action to be taken to implement the 6th Clause, a facility which Jamiat Ulama too availed.

What Jamiyat seeks to gain proposing the absurd theory

The petition handed over to the high-level committee to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord has been signed by six leaders of the state unit of the Jamiat Ulama, but not by the unit’s president Maulana Badaruddin Ajmal, who also heads the All India United Democratic Front, a political party in Assam that finds it’s electoral base among the Muslims who have their ancestral roots in present-day Bangladesh.

The AIUDF, which can be said to be a party backed by the Jamiat Ulama was formed in the year 2005. But even before that year, the state chapter of the Jamiat Ulama played an indirect, but pivotal role in the state’s Muslim politics.

Apart from having sway in the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, the party also supported the then main opposition party Asom Gana Parishad in the Assembly election in the year 1996 and the party won a thumping victory.

During the Assam movement period, the Jamiat Ulama was often seen in loggerheads with All Assam Students' Union, the organisation that led the agitation alleging that it had turned anti-Muslim. But later on, the Jamiat Ulama went on to accept the Assam Accord which was signed between the movement leaders and the Government of India.

Interestingly, the formation of the high-level committee to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord proved the theory that the Assam Movement was an anti-Muslim intention was a myth. For the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord provides for the same reservations for Assamese Muslims as it does for indigenous people of other faiths. If the Assamese Muslims receive the benefits of the reservations as desired by the Accord then it might be difficult for the Jamiyat Ulama to hold its ground in the Assamese Muslim society intact. Left with only Bangladesh-origin Muslims as its main constituency, the Jamiat seems to struggle to remain relevant for it with this new but absurd theory.

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