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Adivasis in Assam Protest Unfulfilled ST Status Promise, Demand Rights Before 2024 Elections

Over 100 members of the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (ASAA) traveled from the state of Assam to Delhi on December 8 to protest against the unfulfilled promise of granting Scheduled Tribe status to the Adivasi community of Assam. While Adivasis in states like Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand enjoy ST status, Assam lacks this recognition. For decades, Adivasis have been urging both the state and central governments to invest in the development of their communities.

Adivasi protestors from ASAA gather at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, demanding Scheduled Tribe status.

The Adivasi community voted for the BJP government and brought it to power in the state because this government gave them hope by promising that the Adivasi community in Assam would also receive Scheduled Tribe status. However, after coming into power, the Bharatiya Janata Party forgot its promise to the Adivasi people. Now, the members of the Adivasi community in Assam have had enough. Their hurt sentiments pushed them to come to Delhi to ensure that their voices were heard by the central government.

This commitment was made during the 2016 state assembly elections by the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Members of the Adivasi community have clearly stated that they will not vote for the Modi government in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections if it fails to grant them Scheduled Tribe status. They feel deceived because they voted for the BJP based on this promise.

"We came here from Assam to make the voice of our Adivasi community heard by the central government. In 2016, the Modi government promised our Adivasi community the status of Scheduled Tribe, but they have yet to fulfill this promise," said Pradeep Naag, the president of ASAA, to a single independent journalist. The journalist asked, "How do you plan to approach this government when the media, the fourth pillar of democracy, is not here to cover your protest at Jantar Mantar?"

In response, he said, "We understand that not all media organizations act, but we trust people like you and praise you when you relay our voice to the government."

In the absence of the media, the Adivasi community members were attempting to speak with the government. They were trying to bring the government's unmet promises to light.

Naag said, 'We're fighting for our rights in Assam as members of tribal communities. He gave the following explanation when asked why they were demanding Scheduled Tribe status: "We want access to land, employment opportunities, recognition for our identity, and quality education." He recalled Birsa Munda when talking about their rights and said, "Birsa Munda was the pioneer among tribal freedom fighters." I am a Munda as well. How is it possible for a Munda from Assam to differ from one from Jharkhand? Our ancestors are the same. Although politics frequently employs divisive strategies, Adivasis continues to be one people”.

Naag said further, "Adivasis in states like Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribes, whereas we, the Adivasis of Assam, lack this identity."

The people of the community collectively agreed that the BJP government falsely promised them to give ST status in return for voting. They said, “If our demands are not taken into account, then we are afraid we will have to protest against the BJP. The ruling party is Jumlebaaz because they keep mentioning Birsa Munda (a freedom fighter) in their speeches, yet they deprive Adivasis of their constitutional rights."

AASAA members demonstrate unity and solidarity during the protest, demanding fulfillment of the 2016 promise.

While discussing the challenges adivasis face without ST status, Mithu Raaj Kisku, a regional secretary of ASAA, said, “Our community will be deprived of better education without this identity. The community will not have access to political representation and government jobs. We face economic challenges, and our education level is low. If we are given our rights, then we will be recognised, and our lives will become better." 

Angelina Lakda, an AASAA secretary, told us, “We have been demanding ST status since 1996, and yet we have been systematically denied our constitutional rights, and no effort is being made by the governments to bring us into the larger framework and main streamline of development. We will continue protesting, and in the future, we will gather in huge numbers if not heard. This will be our move before the 2024 election." 

"This time, in the upcoming 2024 elections, we are not going to be duped by this government. Our demand is that, before voting, this government fulfill its promise made in 2016. This government has played with the sentiments of the Adivasi community, and now we will not allow it to play with us anymore." We're going to plan a big demonstration soon to demand the promised status," Naag declared in agitation.

About the Author:- Snobar is a journalist based in New Delhi, Asifa Khan is an independent journalist from Gujarat.


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