The demand for tribal status in Assam has been going on from a long time. Presently the ST communities comprise of 14% of the total population of the state. And it is slated to expand with 6 more communities in fray to be inducted into the creamy layer.
The communities demanding ST status in Assam
The demand for tribal status is coming from these six communities – Ahom, Koch-Rajbangshi, Moran, Matak, Chutiya, and Adivasi (tea tribes). They have the backing of the ruling BJP.Also its ally AGP and the opposing Congress appear to be on the same boat when it comes to doling out reservations. All three parties have expressed their support for the last three assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
Out of these six, the situation concerning the Adivasis (tea tribes) is most interesting. The Adivasis comprise of 96 sub-groups, are largely of Chhotanagpur origin who were brought to Assam by the British to work in tea plantations from the mid-19th century. However what’s interesting is that these people already have ST status in the states they originally came from. In Assam, they are clubbed together as ‘Tea garden labourers, Tea garden tribes, Ex-Tea garden labourers & Ex-Tea garden tribes’ and are in the race to get reservation for themselves again.
The existing ST communities
We already mentioned that the ST communities makes up for the 14 % of the total Assamese population. Of this, Bodos are 41%, Mising 17.8%, Karbi 10.7%, Rabha 8.4%, Kachari 7.1%, Tiwa 5.2%, Dimasa 3.4% and Deuri 1.2%. However, no break-up of population of the 6 communities demanding ST status is available. Not only that, there are two ST lists- one for the hills and the other for the plains.
STs in the hill districts are Dimasa Kachari, Chakma, Karbi, Garo, Hajong, Hmar, Khasi etc. The ones in the plains are Bodo, Rabha, Mising, Deuri, Hojai, Kachari etc.
Why are the existing communities opposing their demand?
According to the Coordination Committee of Tribal Organisations of Assam (CCTOA), these 6 communities are educationally and economically advanced, as well as numerically significant, and there is no way the existing ST communities can compete with them.
The body claims giving them ST status would wipe out existing communities from elected bodies from the village council to Lok Sabha, as well as from education and jobs, and would lead to STs losing their land rights.
The Governments Stand
The Assam Government has been favourable to these communities and has repeatedly forwarded their case to the Centre. Not only the BJP, but its ally AGP and Congress is gung ho on graNting them ST status. Not only that, all three parties had mentioned this in their 2014 Lok Sabha and 2016 Assembly election manifestos.
However the Registrar General of India has turned their proposals down. The Central Government has set up the Singla Committee to consult with the state government and the agitating groups. Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju has said the government would change the modalities, if necessary, to include them in the ST list.