Scheduled Tribes bill ruffles Assam tribals’ feathers

Currently, 14 tribal communities of Assam, which have a combined population of 38 lakh, are enjoying ST status. They fear the same privilege to the six communities will eat into their rights.

Published: 12th January 2019 06:05 PM  |   Last Updated: 12th January 2019 06:32 PM   |  A+A-

Student activists with members of 28 ethnic organisations take out a rally against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Guwahati. (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

GUWAHATI: At a time the Centre’s bid to get the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed in Parliament saw Assam erupting in protests, another bill introduced in the Lok Sabha by the government on Wednesday has ruffled the feathers of the state’s tribal communities. 
The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Amendment Bill seeks to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to six “advanced” communities such as Chutia, Motok, Moran, Koch-Rajbongshi, Tai-Ahom and Tea Tribes/Adivasis.

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Currently, 14 tribal communities of Assam, which have a combined population of 38 lakh, are enjoying ST status. They fear the same privilege to the six communities will eat into their rights. As such, they have decided to launch a series of democratic protests. 

Granting ST status to the six communities was a promise which the BJP had made ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha election. However, the timing of its implementation by way of introducing the bill in Parliament has raised many questions. Some organisations say it was aimed at assuaging the Assamese who are enraged over the Citizenship Bill. Others say it will not be passed at all.

The Coordination Committee of Tribal Organisations, which is a conglomerate of various tribal organisations that called a bandh in protest against the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Amendment Bill on Friday, is critical of the Centre’s move.

“By keeping us in the dark, the government introduced a draft bill in Parliament to grant ST status to the six communities. As this will destroy the existing ST communities, we will not accept this. We will launch a democratic movement to thwart its passage,” the committee said.

The All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), which is one of the organisations in the committee, said ST status to the six communities would affect the tribals’ political representation and economic, job and admission benefits.

“The six communities in question are far more advanced than the 14 recognised tribes educationally, politically and economically. The Ahoms are no less than the Meenas of Rajasthan. In fact, they are more advanced than the Meenas,” ABSU president Promode Bodo, who is a coordinator in the committee, said.

He said the marginalized ST communities would be destroyed as the Rajbongshis, Ahoms and Tea Tribes/Adivasis together make up around 1.5 crore of Assam’s 3.12 crore population.

“The Sarbananda Sonowal government cheated us by not taking us into confidence despite an assurance. It says the six communities will be in ‘Other ST’ category but there is no provision for this in the Constitution,” Bodo said.

The ABSU is miffed not just with Sonowal, who is a tribal, but also with the state’s four tribal ministers and 22 tribal MLAs for their failure to resist the bill’s introduction in Parliament.

The CM is all praise for the bill. He said granting ST status to the six communities would help in protecting land and political rights of the indigenous people. However, leaders of the six communities are not amused. They sniffed that the Centre’s move was an “election gimmick”. 

Biswajit Roy, who is a leader of All Koch-Rajbongshi Students’ Union, said they would be happy only if the bill is passed by both Houses of Parliament, followed by President’s assent to it.

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