Ahmed also urged the house to consider increasing the marriage age of girls to 20 years, with clearing the Class 12 exams being the minimum qualification for marriage. Delayed marriage, he felt, can help in population control in the lower Assam districts.
In his reply, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told the house that the government is planning to ready a workers’ force on the lines of ASHA workers just to distribute contraceptives. He revealed the government’s plans to launch a Population Army comprising 1,000 Muslim youths from the char chapori or riverine areas inhabited by the minority community.
“Our plan is to send 10,000 women to minority villages as additional ASHA workers. Their only task will be to make contraceptives available there,” Sarma informed.
He said details of the project will be made public after three to four months. Sarma also informed that increasing the marriage age issue is under consideration. He said in the context of Assam, the population control efforts of the state government are not anti-Muslim but anti-poverty.
“The rise in Muslim population will automatically come down after 20-40 years. We just want to expedite the process,” Sarma said.
Earlier, Ahmed had urged the chief minister to ask the DCs and SPs, especially in the minority-inhabited lower Assam districts, to be stricter in dealing with underage marriages. “The DC and SP should be suspended, if any girl below 18 gets married in a district like Barpeta,” Ahmed had said during a discussion on population control measures.
The Baghbar legislator said that many women in minority-inhabited areas, including ASHA and Anganwadi workers, are not aware of the use of contraceptives. “They are hesitant to ask for contraceptives in pharmacies where usually men are behind the counters,” Ahmed said.
“If possible, the age of marriage should be increased to 20. If we can make clearing higher secondary exams the minimum qualification for a girl to get married, Assam will witness a change in the next 10 years,” he added.
Comparing the population growth over 10 years since 2001, the CM said, against the birth of 10 Hindus, the corresponding figure for Muslims was 29. “As a result of the slow population growth, the lifestyle of Hindus in Assam has improved. They have been able to buy vehicles, their children have become doctors and gone abroad to work,” he said.
Sarma said out of compulsion, Muslims have started encroaching on forest lands. He said a ground assessment of the minority areas is needed more than the surveys to assess the impending dangers.
Sarma stressed that the Congress, BJP and AIUDF do not differ on the need for adopting population control measures. “We need a realistic solution for population control,” he added.