Thousands from the Kurmi community blocked roads at 50 places in four Jungle Mahal districts on Thursday, demanding re-inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe category and inclusion of their mother languages Kurmali and Mundari in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, among others.
The Kurmi Samanway Mancha, a joint platform of five outfits, prepared a charter of 24 demands including these two main ones.
“It has been our demand since past seven decades to re-include us in the ST category. Despite repeated appeals to both state and central governments, no one heeded our plea,” said Rajesh Mahata, a leader of the joint platform and state president of Kurmi Samaj.
Members of the Kurmi community claimed they were registered as Schedule Tribe till 1931 and after Independence excluded from the list for “unknown reasons”. They were included in the OBC list but deserved facilities of the ST community, they asserted.
“We blame central and state governments for not registering us as ST despite appeals. We want the state to start the process and the Centre to pass a bill in Parliament to fulfil our demand,” said Biplab Mahata, a leader of the joint platform.
Members of the community claimed that the state government had in 2017 sent a proposal to re-include the Kurmi community as ST to the Centre but it was rejected. “We request the state government to send the proposal to the Centre again and the Centre to accept it,” said Rajesh Mahata, president of Kurmi Samaj.
Among the 50 places where Kurmi protesters blocked roads were Khemashuli in West Midnapore, College More in Jhargram, Manbazar in Purulia and Simlapal in Bankura.
The protest led to closure of shops and disruption of private bus services in protest zones. Many roads in Jungle Mahal districts faced traffic snarls because of roadblocks.
Sources said there were around 50 lakh Kurmi people in Bengal and their votes play a key role in around 35 Assembly seats in four Jungle Mahal districts — West Midnapore, Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, many Kurmi votes shifted to the BJP from Trinamul which helped the saffron camp bag bagged five of the six Lok Sabha seats. The Assembly constituency-wise break-up of votes showed Trinamul lagged behind the BJP in 31 of 40 seats.
But unrest within Kurmis may become a major headache for the BJP, which is banking on the community votes to repeat its Lok Sabha performance in the state polls.
Trinamul and BJP have blamed each other for not taking steps to meet the demands of the Kurmis. “It is the duty of the state government first to send the proposal again. If the state sends it, we will request the Centre to take it up,” said Sukhamoy Satpati, president of the BJP’s Jhargram unit.
Trinamul’s Jhargam president Dulal Murmu countered: “The matter depends on the Centre. Our state government had sent the proposal in 2017 but the Centre rejected it.”