Adivasi Question In Assam
It is unfortunate that the Adivasi
student body went on a rampage while rallying to press for inclusion
of Santal Adivasis and other tea tribes in the list of Scheduled Tribes
(ST) in Assam on November 24, 2007. Equally condemnable is the brutal
retaliation of local residents who attacked the rallyists, leading to
the killing of one person and injury of more than 250 people. Even greater
was the shameful act in which the retaliators publicly stripped one
of the female protestors.
this is not the first incident of attacking outsiders in the state.
We have repeatedly witnessed the killing of Hindi speaking migrants
over the last few years. In the light of this continuing violence, and
particularly the recent clash, we could observe an emerging issue –
the conflict between Adivasis and Scheduled Tribes (ST).
to be strange to hear of an Adivasis Vs Tribals conflict. But the conflict
does exist in Assam. The word 'Adivasi' denotes tribes in other parts
of the country, but not in the Northeast. Tribes in the region are better
known as Scheduled Tribes (ST). Even if two nomenclatures are given
for a single group, why are there conflicts between them? Because these
are not merely two names identifying a single community; these are two
different communities in Assam.
STs are the
indigenous tribes of the state, while Adivasis are the tribes from other
states who are currently residing in the state. They came from the regions
of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa a long time back and have been
working as labourers in the tea gardens. Adivasis, including tea tribe
communities, are not Scheduled Tribes in Assam and they have been demanding
such status for a long time.
STs of the
state, no doubt, are against the Adivasis' demand of ST status. Not
only the inclusion of Adivasis in the list of ST will reduce their share,
they consider themselves under threat from the Adivasis (as well as
other migrants from Bihar and Bengal) in the last few decades on economic,
social and ethnic grounds. The violent manner in which the local residents
retaliated to the adivasi rallyists is partly a reflection of their
hostility against the 'outsider' Adivasis.
the Adivasis were brought to work in tea gardens initially, as there
were acute shortages of labour supply, they are no more in need today
as the number of unemployed local residents have increased tremendously
in the last couple of decades. Another important aspect is that these
migrant labourers are ready to work at a minimal wages, having no other
options, while the local Assamese demand higher wages. When a local
Assamese labourer demands fifty rupees, migrant labourers are ready
to work even at twenty rupees. For this obvious reason, employers prefer
migrant labourers and Adivasis. Thus, local Assamese find it difficult
to get jobs and in turn blame the migrants.
creating a tough competitive environment for getting job in the state,
the outsiders are also seen as threatening the identity of the sons
of the soil. Many have settled in the state and their increasing number
is alarming the ethnic groups. Particularly in Assam and other parts
of Northeast, the original inhabitants are outnumbered by outsiders.
Assames and Tripuris are effectively minorities in their own states
and the same is going to witnessed soon in Manipur and Meghalaya also,
creating the region a fertile dumping ground for overpopulated mainland
India. Thus, conflict starts with economic causes and transforms into
ethnic and communal ones.
the Adivasis, demanding ST status is not unreasonable. They have been
staying there for many years, and neither in their home states nor in
their resident state are they obtaining the advantages of STs. Keeping
in mind the precarious living conditions of Adivasis, both the governments
of home and resident states need to consider it seriously while not
neglecting the interest of the indigenous tribes of the resident state.
is a researcher at the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi
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