Another Mallapuram in making in Assam – Fatwa foribids Islamic last rites to sterilized men

published on June 23, 2013

Excerpts from Nida Najar’s On Assam’s River Islands, Family Planning Clashes Against Religious Tradition

Mazerchar is in the district of Dhubri, whose residents are mostly Muslims of Bengali origin. Many of the chars in Assam are islands in the Brahmaputra River and can disappear over time due to floods, just as regularly as new char islands form from silt deposits. Mazerchar is one of the several chars that are actually connected to the mainland. The district’s population has been growing rapidly: the growth rate of Dhubri, released last month by the Census of India, was 24.4 percent from 2001 to 2011, above the statewide average of 17.07 percent and the highest in Assam.

Health experts say a lack of education and family planning, as well as the common practice of child marriage, has the char population growing at a rate at which the eroding soil cannot support. And as different ethnic groups compete for ever-scarce land, a significant number of the Assamese are erroneously linking the growing numbers of Muslims to illegal immigration from Bangladesh, which has been at the center of a volatile debate and has led to intense violence and forced displacement.

“People say they are coming from Bangladesh,” said Ilias Ali, director of the Global Hospital in Guwahati and a partner in the National Rural Health Mission’s quest to bring family planning to the chars. “But they are not Bangladeshis; they are from undivided Bengal. If we invest money to education and health facilities, their numbers will go down.”

Yet Dr. Ali acknowledges that the Muslim communities in the char areas are resistant to family planning efforts, particularly when he has tried to encourage the men to undergo no-scalpel vasectomies, a procedure that avoids the potential complications of a tubal ligation for women but remains extremely unpopular.

In 2010, along with the National Rural Health Mission, he organized a camp for tubal ligations and vasectomies in Hatsingimarie, in Dhubri district. Over 200 women and around 20 men underwent one of the procedures, according to his records. But only days later, he received word that the Dhubri faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (Organization of Indian Islamic Scholars), a conservative organization of Indian Muslim clerics, had distributed fliers in a local mosque in Hatsingimarie forbidding imams to attend the last rites of the sterilized men.

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