As the Islamic State (IS) or ISIS is spreading its empire in Iraq and Syria and making inroads into several other nations, there is an increasing fear over here in India that it can influence the Muslim population in India too. Such fears are being expressed in Northeast India also, especially in the state of Assam. There are already reports of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other Islamist fundamentalist groups eyeing this region for recruiting cadres and setting up sleeper cells. While it cannot be denied that such things are not happening, this can be said with surety that Islamic fundamentalism would never be able to set a foothold in Assam.
Muslims in Assam have been living peacefully with the other communities of the state for years. They are enriching Assam’s economy, language, literature and culture. Spiritual leaders like Srimanta Sankardeva and Azan Pir have had great roles in building up harmony between the Muslims and non-Muslims in Assam. The Muslims are an integral part of the social and cultural life of the state. Such an instance of co-existence and harmony is hard to find in any other part of the country.
However, the unabated illegal migration from Bangladesh has created a situation where even the indigenous Muslim population is also now being looked with suspicion. The line is specially getting blurred in those districts which share international boundary with Bangladesh, like Dhubri and Karimganj. These districts have a sizeable Muslim population and majority of them are indigenous Muslims. But illegal migration is so rampant through these districts that now any Muslim from these districts is looked with suspicion.
There were also reports that Muslim youths from different districts, including Barpeta, Dhubri and the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), have been joining Islamist terror outfits, particularly after the clashes between the Bodos and the Bengali-speaking Muslim settlers in BTAD. After the Burdwan blasts in October 2014, 6 persons were arrested from Barpeta district of Assam for their alleged involvement in the blast. Investigations revealed that they were part of a module operating under the patronization of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
Though this shows that Islamic fundamentalist groups have been able to influence some people from the state, but this is also true that they have not been able to have an impact on the masses. One small incident may be mentioned here. Sahanur Alom, one of the arrested JMB operatives from Assam, had tried to organize a Namaz one day ahead of the scheduled Eid Namaz in his village in 2014. But the local Muslim population had not given any indulgence to him and had, in fact, chased him away and informed the police.
The Muslims in Assam practice moderate Islam. This has been a catalyst for the inclusive nature of Assamese identity. So even if fundamentalist organizations try to spread their ideology among the Muslim population in Assam, they are going to find very few takers. The security agencies too are on their full alert and already a series of arrests have been made. Interrogations of these arrested persons have given vital information and have broken the network of such groups in this region.
However, under development and lack of access to proper education and healthcare services in various parts of the state, especially in the Muslim-dominated Char areas, pose as a factor that can be used by fundamentalists to lure the people towards their fold. Along with security measures, therefore, it is imperative that the government also take steps for developing the poorly developed interior areas of the state. A dedicated development plan along with tough security measures would surely be able to curb the menace of Islamist fundamentalism at its bud in this region.