The Scheduled Tribe issue

The Scheduled Tribe issue

Witoubou Newmai

The other lurking spectre in Northeast

When plumes of smoke and dust from the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill conundrum are still settling in the Northeast India region, another spectre is lurking around – the issue of the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status demand.

The nerve centre of the Northeast—Assam – is burning with the issue today, and so is Manipur. Moron, Chutiya, Muttock, Tea Tribes, Tai Ahom and Koch-Rajbongshi in Assam and Meitei community in Manipur are gearing up for more pugnacious shows in the days to come with their demands.

Any sorts of discussion on either the merits, criteria, qualifications or the high definitions of who is a ‘tribal’ and who is not, is not analyzed here. Likewise, neither grand theories nor causal stories behind the present scenario are offered; instead, we will dwell only on the scenarios vis-a-vis veritable ramifications which are likely to emanate from the state of bellicose assertions of the concerned communities.

As the number of communities demanding the Scheduled Tribe status in the Northeast region is on the rise, accordingly, there has also been corresponding grip from existing ST communities opposing the campaign. In other words, both sides of the divide have come to express their points more defiantly, than should have been required.

It is election time in India, and the obvious thought on how the political parties, who will get onto the extreme path of competitive populism to be “there,” are going to fiddle around with the issue is quite a concern. The issue, and given the present configuration of the social set up in the region, has great potentials to snowball beyond anybody’s imagination.

For instance, the Coordination Committee of the Tribal Organisations of Assam (CCTOA) has threatened to go to any extent if the aforementioned six communities in Assam are included in the list of the Scheduled Tribes of India. CCTOA represents the existing ST communities including the Bodos, Karbis, Rabhas, Sonowal Kacharis, Hajongs, Dimasas among others in Assam.

In Manipur, the tribal people under the banner of the All Tribal Student Union, Manipur (ATSUM) are fighting the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur (STDCM) of the Meitei community. The Meiteis under the aegis of the STDCM are all prepared to have a “massive” rally on March 3 in Imphal, to be followed by series of agitations to achieve their demand. Like in Assam, the Meiteis have been protesting for years now demanding the ST status. Opposing the Meiteis’ movement, the apex tribal student body in Manipur has also been resorting to bandh and other forms of protest.

Given the grim scenario, and taking into account the gambit of vested interest groups which constantly haunt the region, the people in the region need to find a “channel of understanding” in order to have a common ground to address any issue.