Assam tribals protest Modi government’s bid to grant 'scheduled tribe' status to six communities
The bandh has been called by the Coordination Committee of the Tribal Organisations of Assam to protest a bill that seeks to grant Scheduled Tribe status to six ethnic communities in the state.
GUWAHATI: Normal life in parts of Assam was affected during a 12-hour statewide bandh on Friday which was called by a conglomerate of tribal organisations in protest against the Centre’s move to grant scheduled tribe (ST) status to six “advanced” communities such as Chutia, Motok, Moran, Koch-Rajbongshi, Tai-Ahom and Tea Tribes/Adivasis.
The protestors burnt tyres and placed tree trunks on roads including national highways in Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) to prevent vehicular movement.
Apart from the four districts of BTAD, the bandh had also crippled normal life in tribal-dominated areas of Central Assam’s Morigaon, Nagaon and Hojai districts and the two hill districts of Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong. Sporadic incidents of violence, including damage to vehicles, were reported from some affected areas.
In Jagiroad in Morigaon district, additional police and paramilitary forces had to be rushed in to control protestors.
Earlier this week, the Centre introduced the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha to grant ST status to the six communities. There is a feeling the Centre’s move is aimed at dousing the flames of ongoing anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 protests. The state has 14 recognised tribal communities and they fear the move by the government will eat into their rights.
The Coordination Committee of Tribal Organisations, which had called for the bandh, accused the Narendra Modi government of hatching a conspiracy to destroy the state’s “original tribals”.
“By keeping us in the dark, the government introduced a draft bill in the Parliament to grant ST status to 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) said the government’s decision would adversely affect the state’s 14 recognised tribal communities as far as their political representation and economic, job and admission benefits were concerned.
“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 1.5 crore of Assam’s 3.12 crore population compared to the 38 lakh tribals in the state.
“The Sarbananda Sonowal government cheated us by not taking us into confidence despite an assurance. The government says the six communities will be in ‘other ST’ category but there is nothing like 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.