The recently talked about census data vis-à-vis the threat to Assamese identity seems to be a routine exercise going on for decades. No doubt the census data of 2001 was alarming given that for the first time less than 50% people of the state had returned Assamese as their mother tongue. But there is not much difference between the data of 2001 and 2011.
A section of the intellectuals state that the biggest threat to Assamese people are the 90 lac and above Bengali speaking people residing in Assam
It is not difficult to calculate the figure of 90 lac Bengali speaking people. Let’s look at the tables below.
The total population of the above Bengali speaking districts in 2011 was 36.2 lac. Even if we assume that 90% people in these districts are Bengali speaking the figure works out to be 32.54 lac.
The above table indicates Muslim population (in lac) in seven Muslim majority districts of Brahmaputra valley. Though it is inappropriate to state that the 65 lac Muslims of these districts are Bangladesh/East Pakistan/ British time old Bengal province or even Sylhet district of British Assam origin people, but anybody would concede that a large majority of them are immigrants from present day Bangladesh and speak different dialects spoken in Bangladesh. In my humble assessment the total immigrant Muslim population in these districts should be between 45 and 50 lac.
So it is evident that the Bengali speaking population figure in Assam can be 90 lac only if a large majority of immigrant Muslims return their mother tongue as Bengali.
The arithmetic breaks a few myths:
- The immigrant Muslims don’t pose linguistic threat to Assamese people as they have assimilated into Assamese society (this is a notion propagated by many Assamese intellectuals including Hiren Gohain and also by political parties like AIUDF).
- The immigrant Muslims have helped Assamese nationalists by returning their mother tongue as Assamese and thereby making Assam an Assamese majority state( as alleged by many immigrant Hindu Bengalis).
Perhaps due to strong political awareness it would not be possible to create a Tripura like situation in Assam. I don’t know if immigration continues even now from across Bangladesh border despite so many anti foreigner measures undertaken by the government, but the higher birth rate of immigrant Muslims will continue to affect linguistic balance in Assam adversely. Also we have to wait and see if the NRC exercise would help the indigenous communities retain political power in Assam.