|Activists burn the effigies of Union tribal affairs minister V. Kishore Chandra Deo and Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi
in Sivasagar on Friday. Picture by Kongkon Bora
Bongaigaon/Sivasagar, Aug. 23: Assam’s agitation canvas grew wider today with groups representing six communities hitting the streets to reiterate their call for Scheduled Tribe status after the Centre rejected that possibility, saying they did not fit the bill.
Union tribal affairs minister V. Kishore Chandra Deo, in reply to a question by Assam Rajya Sabha MP Santiuse Kujur, had yesterday said the communities did not fulfil the five criteria required for identification as Scheduled Tribes. The criteria include indications of distinctive culture, primitive traits, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large and overall backwardness.
Dispur had recommended ST status for Koch-Rajbongshis, Tai Ahoms, Morans, Muttocks, Sutias and tea tribe/Adivasi communities on several occasions in the past.
Several organisations representing the six communities, including Muttock Yuva Chatra Sanmilan, All Assam Moran Students Union, All Tai Ahom Students Union and the Chutia Yuva Sanmilan reacted strongly to Deo’s response by protesting in several parts of the state today.
They even burnt the effigies of Deo and chief minister Tarun Gogoi at Tinsukia, Sivasagar, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Golaghat, Nagaon and Morigaon. The organisations’ representatives said a meeting of the Janagosti Oikya Mancha, the umbrella organisation of the six communities, would be held soon to discuss the issue.
Chutia Jatiya Sanmilan president Bitupon Saikia said the “government would have to pay for the betrayal. They promised to fulfil our demands and now they are backtracking. The betrayal might lead to a Karbi Anglong and Bodoland-like situation in Upper Assam.”
All Koch-Rajbongshi Students’ Union president Biswajit Ray, flaying both Dispur and Delhi for their double standards, said it was a political conspiracy of the government to weaken their Kamtapur movement “but our struggle for statehood and ST status will continue as usual.”
All Assam Koch-Rajbongshi Sanmilani president Deva Kumar Saikia said, “Through an ordinance, we enjoyed ST status from 1996 to 1998. This proves we bear tribal character. We will take the issue to court and decide our course of action on Sunday at Bongaigaon Gandhi Maidan.”
“Where did the government get tribal criteria in 1996 to grant us ST status?” questioned Koch-Rajbongshi National Forum president Bimal Barman. Equally critical was Birsa Commando Force commander-in-chief Birsing Munda. “The tribal affairs minister’s statement is full of lies. The Adivasi community is entitled to get the status.”
While All Adivasi Studen-ts’ Association of Assam president Raphael Kujur said they would stage a dharna at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, on August 26, Xabrias Khakha of Adivasi Cobra Militants of As-sam flayed the development.
All Tai Ahom Students Union president Pranjal Rajkowar said the government’s attitude would only compel them to intensify protests. “During our meetings, the tribal affairs ministry used to say the whole issue was with the Registrar General of India, who, in turn, said the progress of the issue depended on government will. We are, therefore, compelled to believe that the government wants to keep the issue alive.”
While All Assam Moran Students Union president Tutu Kanta Moran said the government’s decision reflected it had no knowledge about the community, Muttock Yuva Chatra Sanmilan president Nikheswar Saikia said the community felt cheated by the Centre, adding they, too, would launch protests.