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States within a State

State Correspondent | PointBlank 7

                                                                                              Photo credit : Reuters

Guwahati:  While people in other parts of India like to believe that violence has become a part of the people in Assam, one needs to understand that the origins of this violence is far more deep rooted. Allegedly suppressed and overlooked, the underlying currents reflect a constant negligence of the states in the North eastern part of India. Negligence since Independence, in terms of education,industrialization, employment, health and most importantly the negligence in respecting the identity of the indigenous people of Assam. It is true and no one can deny the fact that even today people from this part of the country are termed as ‘Chinkies’. On several occasions many from the region were even believed to be from other south Asian countries or China just because of their similar looks. It is disheartening.

The irony is that despite being aware of these issues, the Central Government seems to be avoiding the age-old cries of the people of this part of the globe who have been asking for equal status and opportunity like any other Indian.

Now with United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) nod to create a Telangana state,the ethnic pot of Assam again started boiling , spurring the revival of statehood movements by at least four ethnic groups — the Bodos, the Karbis, the Dimasas and the Koch-Rajbangshis.

The Koch-Rajbangshis’ demand of creating a separate Kamatapur state comprising of 15 districts of Assam and six of West Bengal since the 60s. The other three demands were of creating separate Bodoland, Karbi and Dimasa land. Despite the Centre having already started tripartite talks with the angry organisations demanding separate states, the negotiations are still pending.

It was on December 5, 2012, that the politics over the Rajbongshi community took a different turn ,when the Register General of India (RGI) declined the community’s other demand of according a Schedule Tribe (plains) tag. The RGI tuned down the demand saying that the community doesn’t “fulfill the criteria”. As per the norms, any community that fulfills the five criteria – indication of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with community at large and backwardness – will be treated eligible to get ST status.

Coincidentally the Tribal Research Institute of the Assam government, in its study in 1994, had found adequate justification for inclusion of Koch Rajbongshis in ST list. Based on that report, the same RGI had also given ‘No Objection Certificate’ for inclusion of the community in the ST list of Assam subsequently. Later in 1996, the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill to provide for the inclusion of the Koch Rajbongshi in the ST list was introduced in the Lok Sabha. Then the house referred the bill to
a 15-member select committee, which also endorsed it.

Vikram Rajkhowa, chairperson of Centre for Koch Rajbongshi Studies and Development (CKRSD) added, “As Parliament was not in session at that time, the bill was promulgated to give effect to scheduling of the Koch-Rajbongshi community in ST (Plains) list of Assam. The said ordinance was re-promulgated three times, but the bill was never put up for voting and since then the issue is hanging.” Fumed over the government’s dual standard, Rajkhowa has also moved the Gauhati High Court on the matter and the case is on trial.

The Koch-Rajbongshi community of Assam, an indigenous aboriginal tribe of the region has been demanding inclusion of its community in ST lists of Assam since 1968. For Koch Rajbongshi leaders the ruling Congress government is dangling the carrot of ST status for over a decade and using them as a vote bank.

“We have all the documental evidences of our state and origin. This movement is not going to stop. If government keeps playing politics then we are ready to answer it loud and clear,” said Biswajit Ray, president of All Assam Koch Rajbongshi Students’ Union (AKRASU).

Meanwhile, unhesitant to take up the violent route, a bunch of Koch Rajbongshi youth have formed the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and claimed to run its armed movement to protect the community’s rights.

Besides, other indigenous populations belonging to Tai Ahoms, Morans, Muttocks, Chutias and Adivasi tea tribes have also launched protests and are coming out on streets to press their demand of granting (ST) status to them.Similarly the Bodos, the Karbis and the Dimasas hold the view that the Sixth Schedule experiment failed to fulfill their aspirations.

The Bodos are demanding a separate Bodoland, a demand which the Center earlier had managed to quell with the creation of a territorial council. But the creation of Telengana had sparked it again. Agitators had blocked the NH 31, which connects the region to the rest of the country, for hundreds of hours leading to scarcity in food and medicine supply, price hike and leading to unrest between the Bodos and non-Bodos.

Promod Boro, president of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) said, “We have seen two councils, one of which was an autonomous council, but the step-motherly attitude of Assam government has forced us to reiterate our demand of a separate state.” Besides, ABSU, all the other Boro organisations are echoing the demand in the recent past leading to conflicts in the area.

Meanwhile, the village councils formed after the peace accord signed by the Centre and Assam governments with the militant outfit in Karbi Anglong district have too allegedly failed to meet the demands of progress and development for the local communities.

The shocker came in 2008-09, when several Karbi Anglong council officials were found involved in a scam worth Rs 1,000 crore, spanning over a period of 10 years from 2001. There were alleged involvements of political giants of the state in the scam. Even the CBI that was investigating the scam named two politicians, both former heads of the council, Depolal Hojai and Mohet Hojai in the scam.

In the same district, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) started its maiden investigation where it found that several crores of funds allotted for the district were being swindled to militant groups to procure arms. The investigation also linked the involvement of many government officials’ in the crime.

 But the story doesn’t end here. The region is seeing the uproar from various other communities and tribes who are also seeking self governance and separate states- Garoland in Meghalaya, Frontier Nagaland and Greater Nagalim in Nagaland, Kukiland in Manipur and a separate Tripuri state in Tripura.
                                                         
Though New Delhi seems to be dealing with the grievances of the region’s people at its own convenience and pace, it should also keep in mind to douse the fire before it too late.

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