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Muslims of Assam

By Md. Khurshid Ahmed,

The historical backgrounds firmly prove the arrival of the Ahoms and Muslims as invaders in the first half of the thirteenth century CE. Muslims from the west started entering Assam in 1206 few years before the invasion of the Ahoms into the state in 1226. The only difference between the two is that the Ahoms could lay down permanent empire but Muslims failed to establish their rule prosperously. Muslims yet, could conquer some portions in Assam and administrated them temporally. Since that period Muslims began to settle over the region.

Muhammad Bine Bukhtiyar Khalji was the first Muslim’s invader who attacked Kamrup (Assam) in 1206 in the hope to conquer China through Assam. But he could not succeed his plan and was defeated. In his second attempt in 1227 A.D. along with Ewaz Khan as commander in chief could reach Nawgaon district of Assam. In the same year Naseeruddin invaded Kamrup and defeated the king Prethu. This historical point of view vividly reveals the capability of Muslims in the establishment of their rule over the some parts of the state namely in Hojo. They settled willingly in the state while others remained as captives who latter on got mixed with local Assames and leaving their native tongue and culture, they adopted Assames culture and civilization as their own and married Assumes girls and settled down.

There is undoubted reality that due to the propagation of Islam by different saints, preachers and peers, a number of lower castes, Hindus and tribes came under the fold of Islam that resulted in increase of the Muslims’ populations during the medieval age in India. The last war between Ahoms and Mughals took place in 1682 wherein Mughal was defeated in Itakhuli (nearby Guwahati). That ended Mughal will to regain eastern parts of Assam. To sum up Muslims entered into Assam as conquerors, administrators, preachers and invitees of local kings.

The Ahoms entered Assam from the Eastern boundary in 1228 A.D. they ruled over the soil for more than 600 years. Due to their internal squabbles, the last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed the collapse of powerful rule of Ahoms in Assam. It was the Assamese general Budanbar Phukan who invited Burmese invaders to support him in the war against the alien prime minister of a minor king. The Assam king’s request to British, who was ruling in the neighboring Dacca in order to exile the Burmese, paved the way of British’s entrance and establishment of their ruling power in the state. In 1826 the consequent Treaty of Yandabo for the expulsion of Burmese saw the seeds of British rule over the soil of Assam firmly.

In the latter part of nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century, the first chapter of the migration came into being only after the British government started an initiative step to bring well-read Bengali Hindus to different posts, poor laborers for tea cultivation and Bengali Muslims for jute cultivation in Assam. A declining number of them migrated from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.

With the heavy influx of migration from different corner of the country especially Bengal district a drastic change appeared in the demographic structures, the agricultural scenario of Assam and in various works of administration, railway, post office, law, teaching and primary medicine. The British government allowed rather encouraged them settling permanently in Assam.

The settlement and establishment of Muslims in Assam was not on solid grounds. From the very beginning, Mughal soldiers who remained as captives in Assam, and later settled here permanently were economically weak. Low-caste Hindus and tribals who embraced Islam were also poor and backward in every respect. Muslims who migrated from East Bengal to Assam were mainly poor cultivators. Most of them settled at pasture-land, wasteland and areas where they have been affected by floods every year. They build and rebuild after every flood. Therefore, in this term, Muslims were economically weak from the very beginning of their settlement.

Illiteracy among Muslims is high. Large number of Muslims, who migrated from East Bengal were cultivators and daily labourers. They did not feel the need of education. They were busy in earning their livelihood. They remained satisfied if their children earn some money. Even smaller children do hard manual labour. No project was taken up during the British period of Assam for removal of illiteracy. After the independence the conditions of Muslims have changed to a great extent, but not satisfactory compared to other communities.

From ‘Muslims in North East India: Problems & Prospects’ a research publication of Markazul Ma’arif Education & Research Centre (MMERC), Mumbai. [www.markuzulmaarif.org]