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ST tag eludes Adivasis

Guwahati, Nov. 30: Five Assam-based Adivasi militant groups in ceasefire today expressed unhappiness over the “tardy progress” in according Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to 80 lakh Adivasis living in the state, most of whom are working in tea gardens.

The unhappiness was conveyed to the Centre by 15 leaders of the groups during a tripartite meeting here. It was attended by the joint secretary (Northeast) of the Union home ministry, Sambhu Singh, deputy secretary Ajoy Kanojia, senior Assam government officials and police officials, among others.

The groups, comprising Adivasi Cobra Military of Assam (ACMA), Birsa Commando Force (BCF), Adivasi People’s Army, All Adivasi National Liberation Army and Santhal Tiger Force, had laid down arms on January 24 last year with a declaration that they would continue to fight for Scheduled Tribe status for Adivasis living in the state. More than 1,200 cadres of these groups have been living in designated camps in Kokrajhar and Golaghat districts since then. They had earlier held tripartite talks in Delhi in July 2010 and July 2012.

“The Adivasis have been demanding ST status since 1967 but we have repeatedly been told by the government that the process is under way. In today’s meeting, we reiterated the demand but Sambhu Singh told us that the process was on. We are disappointed with the response as the ethnographic report prepared by a committee has not yet been submitted to the registrar-general of India. We had urged New Delhi to accord ST status within this year but the progress in the process is slow,” the BCF’s self-styled commander-in-chief, Bir Singh Munda, told The Telegraph today.

Adivasis have been living in the state since they were brought from Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal to work in tea gardens during British rule. More than 60 lakh Adivasis are still associated with the state’s tea gardens.

The ACMA chairman, Xavrias Khaka, sought inclusion of another 200 of their cadres in the list of its surrendered cadres. The ACMA at present has 453 cadres living in the designated camps. “We wanted that the families of 80 of our members who died during the armed movement should be compensated properly,” he said.

Leaders of three militant groups in ceasefire — United Kukigam Defence Army, Kuki Revolutionary Army-Kuki Liberation Army and Hmar People’s Convention also attended today’s meeting that discussed their grievances. The groups demanded regularisation of monthly stipend of Rs 3,000 given by the government to the surrendered cadres living in designated camps.

Additional director-general of Assam police (special branch), Pallab Bhattacharya, who also attended the meeting, said the home ministry officials had told them that the process of according ST status to the Adivasis was heading in “a positive direction”.


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