Assam tribals against ST status to more groups

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS

Guwahati : Tribal groups in Assam have warned the government against bringing in more communities in the state under the list of Scheduled Tribes (ST) saying there would be unrest if their warning is ignored.

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The toughening of stand by organisations like the All Assam Tribal Sangha (AATS), the state’s apex tribal body, has further cornered the Congress-led government in Assam, which has promised to push for ST status to six more communities in the state.

“Granting ST status to more groups in Assam will jeopardise the interests and political rights of the existing tribal population in the state,” AATS general secretary Aditya Khaklari told journalists Thursday.

Leaders of seven influential tribal organisations who interacted with journalists said the Assam government was “playing a political game” ahead of the panchayat elections here by recommending to the Centre to grant ST status to six other communities in the state.

The six communities seeking ST status are: Tai Ahom, Muttock, Moran, Chutia, Koch Rajbongshi and Adivasis. The government is in favour of bringing in these communities into the ST list.

The issue has come to the fore with the Adivasis under the banner of the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA) intensifying their agitation in recent weeks for ST status to the community.

An Adivasi rally in the state capital Guwahati Nov 24 turned violent after protestors clashed with local residents leading to the death of an Adivasi and injuries to more than 200 others.

The Congress-led coalition is in a spot because a section of leaders from the Hagrama Mahilary faction of the Bodo People’s Progressive Front (BPPF-H) too have voiced their opposition to the granting of ST status to more communities in Assam.

The BPPF-H is an ally of the Congress and its legislators are part of the Tarun Gogoi-led government in the state.

The Congress, however, is unfazed and said the BPPF-H did not oppose the move to grant ST status to the six communities when the state assembly had adopted a resolution supporting the demand.

The issue has the potential to polarise the state on ethnic lines. The Tribal Sangha has criticised influential groups like the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) for backing the Adivasi demand for ST status to the community.

“The tea tribes (Adivasis included) are not aborigines of Assam. They have migrated from areas like Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Therefore, they cannot be considered as tribals in Assam,” Khaklary said.

The tea tribes have been traditionally supporting the Congress and controls or influence the electoral verdict in at least 20 of Assam’s 126 assembly constituencies. Their demand, therefore, cannot be ignored so easily by the Congress, resulting in the party’s discomfiture.

The Adivasis on their part argue that they are an integral part of the greater Assamese society, having migrated and settled down in the state more than 150 years ago.