Situating Muslims in Assam Politics
Parvin Sultana
THE MUSLIM QUESTION IN ASSAM AND NORTHEAST INDIA by Monoj Kumar Nath Routledge, 2022, 191 pp., 995.00
May 2022, volume 46, No 5

Muslims in Assam comprise one-third of its population. Since Independence, the politics of Assam has been shaped by the question of alleged illegal immigration from erstwhile East Pakistan. The spectre of an illegal immigrant minoritizing the ‘khilonjia’(original inhabitants) of Assam has been a constant in the popular as well as political discourse. Monoj Kumar Nath’s book The Muslim Question in Assam and Northeast India is the latest addition to the body of work which deals with the issue.

The author raises some issues in the introduction that he claims to have dealt with in the book. He tries to understand the political and cultural choices of the Muslims of East Bengal origin. The Muslims of East Bengal origin initially aligned with the Assamese people and made a conscious choice while opting for Assamese language. While this played a crucial role during the language movement, the latter years especially post Assam Movement (1985) saw a growing disillusionment amongst the community. The author tries to understand this alienation that the community faced and the choices they made.

Comprising five chapters, the book starts with understanding the impact of colonial policies which focused on revenue generation. The demand for increased food because of growing tea plantations, the availability of fallow land encouraged the British to bring peasants from erstwhile East Bengal. The push factor was a harrowing exploitative Zamindari system prevalent there. The British initially exempted land revenue and even laid down train tracks to ease communication. This increased the population of Muslims in various parts of Assam exponentially. To assuage the local political leaders, the British introduced the Line System in 1916 to ensure that land is not passed to the East Bengali Muslims. However, this system was never properly implemented.

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